Okay SPAAAACE-time. To the chagrin of those trying to destroy our confidence, we keep doing fine and wonderful things!
Let's begin with my own milestone... after 12 years in the funnest gig ever, I just attended (in Houston) my last Symposium for NASA's Innovative & Advanced Concepts program - (NIAC) - as a member of the External Council watching (and critiquing!) presentations about some of the coolest (and often weird) just-barely-plausible projects that NASA has deemed worthy of small-scale seed grant support.
Cool stuff! Look up the wide range of bold concepts, from several revolutionary kinds of space telescope to Venus gliders that move through the thick haze like manta rays. Or propelling spacecraft by firing fuel pellets at em, from behind! Or several kinds of stimulated isotope nuclear rockets, safer and cheaper than other nukes, but also much faster than chemical ones. From Mars habitats built of algae to a portable pharmacy that might make any drug on demand.
You can either read up on past projects or catch the Symposium recorded free, at the NIAC site.
== How asteroids may offer wealth - or threats.... ==
NASA just launched the Psyche spacecraft aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket - on its journey to the unique metal-rich asteroid, Psyche. Data from this mission could advance plans for future asteroid mining. Headlines that Psyche is worth "quadrillions of dollars" of course neglect the fact that - after a few measly thousands of tons of gold and platinum harvested to Earth - prices would collapse and you'd be using gold foil to wrap sandwiches. (Now, I wonder which parties here on Earth would not like their mines to go obsolete? And hence pushed for the silly-useless"Artemis" distraction-"race" to re-do Apollo footprint stunts on a vast plain of useless, poison lunar dust?)
The first asteroid sample has been returned to Earth; the sample capsule from the OSIRIS-REx mission to asteroid Bennu was retrieved after landing in the Utah desert. Samples are being analyzed at the Johnson Space Center.
Meanwhile, the asteroid-defense foundation, B612 – helping track potentially devastating rocks out there - has launched the Schweickart Prize - honoring Apollo 9 & Skylab astronaut Rusty Schweickart’s contributions to space exploration and planetary defense across a 60-year career. The $10,000 award aims to stimulate graduate student contributions to planetary defense and advancement of humanity's cosmic journey, safeguarding our transition into the wider cosmos. Awardees will also receive a museum-quality meteorite. Not just technical advances qualify! Also in fields of policy and education about this existential purpose.
And if that weren't enough... almost daily we get incredible wonders from the utterly intricate James Webb and its partner telescopes, in space and on Earth, some of them mentioned in my last posting about space.
And meanwhile, recovery (with stunning pinpoint accuracy) of perfect asteroid samples, brought back across (literally) a billion miles? The Curiosity and Perseverance rovers doing dazzling Mars science accompanied by a spectacular little helicopter? And that's just marvels we've accomplished in Space!
There's far, far more down here on Earth. Making pessimism kinda... well... one of the dumber attitudes even remotely possible.
== Fermi Redux. I stand by prevalence of Life! Just not folks with starships ==
First. Way fun stuff by John Michael Godier about the most isolated human tribe on Earth… the Sentinelese… and whether they exist in a version of the “Zoo Hypothesis” for the Fermi Paradox. Of course, Isaac Arthur has probaly 30+ videos dissecting the same topic in great detail... that I don't always agree-with! But certainly fascinating riffs!
An interesting and cogent video about the Fermi Paradox by charismatic astrophysicist David Kipping is informative and entertaining. Alas, it is also… ultimately… deeply wrongheaded.
Oh, surely something is depressing the observability of interstellar (IS) civilizations… and as I stated in my 1983 paper – the first that really tried to appraise the range of ‘fermi proposals’ to explain the Great Silence – there are dozens of possibilities, ranging to “They are out there, just hard to notice.”
This fellow’s argument is that LIFE may be the key factor and that the existence of living material on Earth might be the statistical fluke. He goes on, claiming we have no idea what f(L) in the Drake equation must be. And he does poke at some logical fallacies that eager folks often lean upon, to support their faith in Otherness.
Still, while that his claim of “we don’t know F(L)” is true, his ‘hence life on Earth is likely a fluke’ is unsupportable.
In fact, ever since the Miller-Orgel-Urey or MOU experiments of the 60s, each successive stage of self-assembly of organic molecules toward life-like complexity has fallen in the laboratory with rapidity, each being lab-emulated within the next five years or so. Step by step by step, we have not found a next-level of complexity or pre-life that would be statistically hard for a planet-ocean-organic-soup to achieve. Oh, sure, that proves nothing. The next one beyond our horizon might turn out to be the truly hard and rare one! The one that leaves Earth to be uniquely and lucky!
(For appraisal of every variety of "Gaia Hypothesis -- weak, medium, strong and hyper-strong(!) see my novel EARTH, which should have a new edition out, in January!)
Still, the steady series of easy steps beyond MOU cannot be ignored. It has meaning in arranging a general sense of how the universe is trending, in her revelations, via science.
Things start getting more interesting when Kipping finally gets to an actual issue with “life started quickly” on this planet. That would certainly seem to imply it happened easily! He wriggles kinda cleverly, to anthropically dismiss that argument, in a way that’s both cute and…
…and also BS, since there are many other stars that have longer lifespans than ours while still not too dissimilar to Sol. A G5 star will last twice as long without differing in any (likely to be) crucial ways.
And this leaves out the real reason why life pretty much has to be all over the place. The fact that almost every star you see in the sky – even binaries or multiples or unstable flare stars – whatever - likely has planets, including several Europa-type bodies nearby with liquid water oceans covered by ice roofs.
Moreover, each new solar system apparently begins with trillions of icy comets, which start off (likely) with molten, salty, electrified interiors. That is a lot of test tubes for biogenesis!
And let’s not even get started on panspermia.
Sound like I disagree with Dr. Kipping? In fact, I’m not disagreeing with his overall notion that Interstellar civilizations may be rare! What’s very hard to support is his focus on F(L) as the likeliest culprit.
In fact, let me flip and say I do believe that it is very plausibly arguable that the number of extant high tech civilizations is low! Because, while F(L) seems (tentatively) likely to be high - F(I) and F(c) very likely are low! In fact, my top-ranked “fermi” is that human level sapience has evolved in this galaxy only occasionally, tech civ even more rarely...
... and tech civilizations that escape the lobotomizing trap of feudalism - (the ubiquitous historical failure mode that is rearing up - yet again as we speak - to destroy us) - are probably nearly nonexistent.
That is where we are very likely a fluke. At least it ranks way up there on my list.
== As for those freaking UFOs? ==
Yeah yeah. Twice every decade since I was a child, these manias have recurred, always the same insipid nonsense and the same absolute paucvity of anything remotely plausible. Well... see my posting:
Grrr. even if they were 'real', we still oughta snub the nasty things!