Humankind is a pestilence — a malignant growth, ravaging and destroying everything that it touches.
For the sake of the rest of the universe, we must confine the vile infection to the single planet that it now inhabits.
That's the attitude of surprisingly many people (though not of your humble columnist).
I got an email this week from one of them — a "Lori M.":
Forget "practical and affordable" — space travel is not ethical. Let's face it: We cause problems here and we would just take them somewhere else.
Humankind consistently demonstrates a strong lack of the integrity for such a venture. History foreshadows the cyclical injustices of the past played out anew on some poor, unsuspecting ecosystem. Space travel/colonization would be irresponsible and sadly consistent with the thinking that got us to the state of informed depravity we are in now.
I'm not saying we should trash space travel- just table it until human societies show more promise. We do best to spend more time and effort developing character before technology.
"Space travel is not ethical."
My, my, where to begin?
I don't know where my correspondent was when she sent me the email, but I'll bet it wasn't the African savannah. I wonder if she thinks that the human race had the "integrity" to leave that place where we evolved and expand into what is now Europe? Or that those who had spread further east, into Siberia, should have had second thoughts before crossing the Aleutian land bridge and thus despoiling the Americas?
Is she of the school of thought that those descendants of the Africans, having developed the technologies of sail and navigation, should have then stayed in Europe until they had attained some kind of societal perfection, by her (no doubt lofty) standards? Well, perhaps she is, though, of course, had they done so, she probably wouldn't be here to so helpfully (if not specifically) point out to us our myriad failings. And wouldn't that have been a tragedy?
Human beings "cause problems here..."
Indeed we do. Of course we cause lots of other things as well.
We often cause solutions to those same problems.
We also cause scientific theories. And symphonies, and majestic works of art, and gardens, and laughter, and joy. But apparently she would insist that all non-terrestrial existence remain empty of these things, because we're too "depraved" and insufficiently "ethical" (by whatever unexplained standards of ethics she uses). To paraphrase the kid in West Side Story, as he told Officer Krupke, she wants to "make the universe deprived on account of we're depraved."
And she's concerned that we will attack some "unsuspecting ecosystem." Here's a newsflash, Lori — not only are ecosystems off the earth "unsuspecting" — they're non-existent, as far as we know. There is no solid evidence for life in the universe anywhere other than on our planet (which isn't to say with any certainty, of course, that it doesn't exist).
If this remains the case, our role in expanding into the universe will not be to ravage ecosystems, but to create them. We can, and will, make our dead solar system flower, overbrimming it with life (and not just human life), and consciousness, and love, and beauty, and laughter. And we will help it in knowing itself in a way that it cannot without sentience as represented by ourselves.
And unfortunately, because we're human, we will indeed take along many of the uglier things that our emailer deplores. But we will do it regardless, and we won't wait to develop the "character" that she demands — to do so would, I suspect, postpone the next step of our evolution...forever. Because I'm figuring that that's approximately how long it will be before the "Lori M"s of the world finds our flawed race up to their hypercritical and unrealistic muster.
Fortunately, the decision will not be hers. She is welcome to stay behind. As the old tee-shirt says, the meek will inherit the earth — the rest of us will go to the stars. And we will do so with a clear conscience.
Oh, Give Me Land, Lots Of land Under Starry Skies Above...
Cole Porter knew what people want, in his song "Don't Fence Me In."
I want to point out a very worthy initiative by Alan Wasser (current head of the National Space Society) to provide economic incentives for space settlement. This may free up more private investment for it, both reducing the need to rely on the taxpayer and ensuring that the money is spent on (gasp!) actual space settlement activities, as opposed to simple job (but not wealth) creation.
In brief, he proposes the establishment of a regime for property rights in space via legislation which would result in the U.S. recognizing same. The perceived lack of such rights is one (though by no means the only) barrier to raising investment funds for off-world ventures. When investors can't be sure they're going to hold clear title to their investment, it makes it that much harder to persuade them to invest.
I haven't read the proposed legislation in detail, but I certainly concur with the spirit of it.
More Palestinian Lies Exposed
Three Armenian priests in the Church of the Nativity, (you know, the ones who "weren't hostages"?), escaped the other night.
The priests told of "shocking sights" inside the church, including the beating by terrorists of some Christian clergy.
Nawwww, no hostages there. Just a little friendly S&M.
Of the many instances of one-sided reporting in this war, this particular incident is one that I find the most inexplicable. I'm still having trouble finding anyone who will criticize the Palestinians for taking over the church — all the blame for the standoff still seems to be levied on the Israelis.
Bruce Dern Would Be My Pick
They're making a biopic about John McCain.
They're talking up Ed Norton, Jr. for the lead role. My suggestion is in the title. What's yours?
One Palestinian's Collaborator Is A Reuters Reporter's Collaborator
The headline of this Reuters story is "Palestinians in Hebron Kill Suspected Collaborators." Note that there are no quote marks on the word "collaborators." They probably ran out, after using them all up on the word "terrorist."
Unlike terrorists, I guess there's no danger that anyone might equate collaborators with freedom fighters. Or martyrs...
In response to last week's column, protagonist DocZen writes:
...I believe that capitalism is the key here. Once we figure out how businesses can make money in space (and I don't mean orbiting billboards), we won't have to worry, as cold, evil calculating capitalism will take over and we won't have to worry about NASA. Don't miss the sarcasm (evil capitalism) — I'm a fan of capitalism. In fact, I plan on having some capital myself some day.
Great! When you do, I'll have some advice as to what to do with it to open up the frontier.
James Keegan says:
The problem isn't the lack of vision — it's the vision itself.
Also, haven't the people who read your column ever read (ever heard of) The Man Who Sold the Moon?
Got to say this: I never thought the Space Shuttle would fly — flying brick yard — what a Rube Goldberg. It's got everything (perhaps even a kitchen sink). Solid boosters. Auxiliary liquid fuel tank. Bricks. (Think what we might have been able to do if we actually tried to build a space ship?)
Sour grapes from the guy who lost his job, huh?
Got to go (but apparently, for me, never to space...bummer).
Peter Harris writes:
A fantastic column. Keep up the good work. Your efforts are appreciated here.
And an aerospace employee who wishes (for obvious reasons) to remain nameless informs us that:
NASA has progressed too far down the wrong path, as can be seen by an ever-widening gap between significant accomplishments coupled with out of control spending. Mostly it's become a giant science fair for engineers with a virtually-unlimited budget.
As a former manager for the ISS Prime Contractor, I witnessed daily an obscene amount of waste with little focus on concrete goals. Rather than being a program geared towards actually PRODUCING something, it was more a fun mental exercise for those involved, than any kind of real venture. After having my dreams slowly stripped away, I returned to my former profession rather than continue to take part in a lie.
NASA should be dismantled and rebuilt from the ground up. The only way to realistically pursue space again is to turn back to the basics. Apollo worked, not because of any Presidential Order, but because a large group of highly-motivated people shared a dream that was fully supported by the American public.
Reader Robert Sapp opines:
I've felt for some time now that sending a man to Mars will become our number one priority the day after the Chinese announce that it is THEIR number one priority. Who, after all, wants to see the flag of Red China be the first to fly over the Red Planet?
That's an issue for yet another column...
And finally, from Lisa Wolf, the kind of email that, if I had any, would warm the cockles of my heart:
I won't say I agree with everything you say, but it is sure fun to read articles from someone who is at least in the ballpark of reason. As well as interesting thoughts, information, and sometimes funny feedback on sometimes not-so-funny topics (like your response to the pro-Palastinian writer), it's just enjoyable to browse through your material.
Rand Simberg is a recovering aerospace engineer and a consultant in space commercialization, space tourism and Internet security. He offers occasionally biting commentary about infinity and beyond at his Web log, Transterrestrial Musings.