I've got a few simple questions.
I've got a few simple questions.
[This post is an expansion of a response I made to a comment about the preceding post.]
I just read a good piece in the NY Times. Aaron Sorkin imagines Josiah Bartlet giving a well-deserved dressing down to Barack Obama. I couldn't agree more. When the hell is the Obama campaign going to get mad? Do they think that they should be like the Adlai Stevenson campaign, but not as funny?
I just got back upstairs from one of my periodic post-midnight walks around the East Village. My body stays on west coast time so I do plenty of drifting about in the early hours whenever I’m back in New York.
After an hour or so of meandering, some time sitting on the Cooper Union steps, and a bit of a walk I drifted back to my friend’s place. Before heading up I stopped at the deli around the corner and picked up some toilet paper, a roll of paper towels, a Manhattan Special, and four jars of Kosciusko (to ship west, natch). I get to the counter and chat with the guy there and as he’s getting ready to ring me up he asks, “so, you need a sandwich?” With, I might add, a friendly, helpful little smile. And I realize that he recognizes me. Because when I go by there I almost always get a sandwich (or three). But keep in mind, I only go there about fifteen times a year. This is the first time I’ve set foot there in at least four months. But he recognizes me and I recognize him.
And ya know what? I really treasure these things. It means a lot to me that the deli guy knows what I tend to get. That he pauses to chat, puts aside what he’s doing to discuss the day and what he thinks of the crowds and if anybody is likely to start a fight out front tonight. In some ways, no matter how many cities I live in, I am still very much a New Yorker and I guard my right to pass through my day in complete anonymity with implacable conviction. But the very idea of a life stripped of those little relationships, the meeting of eyes, the exchange of opinions and maybe even a small favor or two, seems to me to be arid and dead beyond all reason.
I truly believe that I live a life more suffused with beauty and peppered with shared moments of alliance and friendship than most people in America. And I am very well aware that this is largely because of the choices that I’ve made and continue to make every day. Every time a moment like this touches me, I’m reminded why all of our work to support community farms and small businesses and locally run schools is so very, very crucial. It may well be that nothing in our lives we do so helps us fight the Walmarts and Halliburtons of the world as much as the occasional thirty seconds we spend now and again holding the door for a guy delivering vegetables or watching the door for a few minutes in a thrift shop so the counterperson can use the bathroom in less of a rush.
And, at the end of the day, that makes us all feel better.
So it seems like half the politicians in Portland, not to mention the PBA and their allies, are in a tizzy about Peterson's, the big convenience store across from the oh-so-finicky new Brooks Brothers. I'm not going to rehash all the arguments here. For now I'll just offer a simple thought. What if, instead of treating Peterson's like a problem to be expunged, they're offered a trade. They give up their big ol' store on the MAX in downtown and, in exchange, they're given newstand concessions at each line terminus and a few other major stations along the MAX lines and along the new streetcar lines to southeast?
So I see that NASA has just announced their newest Mars mission. If all goes well (yeah, right), five years from now the next exploratory robot (the "MAVEN") will launch to spend the next Earth year studying the atmosphere of Mars.
At this rate, by the time the universe reaches heat death we'll almost certainly be ready to choose and budget a committee to determine final mission parameters for the test reviews to articulate goals and concerns for evaluating factors to be analyzed that will be relevant to specifying a first manned mission to Mars.
If, that is, all goes well.
This is pathetic. Look, we can argue science all day and all night but out here in the real world, barring the discovery of sentient lifeforms who forbid our doing so, we've made the decision. We're going to Mars. And while more knowledge is nice and while science and technology will advance, we already know that we're going to need tons of materials, equipment, supplies, shelter, and so on, and I simply don't believe that none of it at all can be specified, built, and shipped yet. So let's start now.
I know that I've said variations on this before but the point remains valid.
Every year that we delay is another year that our society may fall further into depression, making funding shakier.
Every year that we wait is another year for storms to get worse and environmental regulations tighter, making launches more expensive, dangerous, and harder to schedule.
Every year that we wait is another in which some war or other crisis might cause the relevant organizations to say, as the U.S is doing right now about the ISS, "let's just pull back for a couple of years until things get more stable."
The longer we wait, the more we risk.
And even beyond that, the more materiel we get to Mars, the easier the other decisions get to make. Each payload delivered to Mars gets us closer to having a viable manned mission and to having a viable settlement. I'm not speaking just of what NASA can do but of what can be done by other countries, private corporations, or even universities.
It's time to start assembling payloads and launching them on trajectories to Mars. Okay, we don't know locations yet. Fine. Let the payloads reach Mars and wait in orbit until told where to land. I understand that landing location is part of what determines landing strategy and therefore the equipment provided to carry it out but it's not like each square meter of Mars would require a different approach to getting the payload down to the surface. Not to get all high tech or anything, but have we run out of bouncy balls?
As for orbiting, are we incapable of specifying a common communications standard and protocol so that orbiters can start to accumulate in parking orbits around Mars while we wait for humans on Mars to retrieve or call down those supplies? We know that the "space internet" is tested and that it worked. We've bloody well gotten IP v6 working up there, which is more than we can say for most of the internet down here. So we know that we have the means to handle, let's call it traffic control. We manage a far larger and less coherent population of objects in Earth orbit so this should be much simpler, speed-of-light delays notwithstanding. And, on top of everything else, each of those orbiters would become another node in the communications net around the planet. the more nodes in the network, the better communications gets for everybody.
Do we know that we'll need at least one robotic rover? We do. Somebody should send one.
Do we know that we'll need insulating panels? We do. So we should be getting a few hundred square meters of reflective mylar or equivalent out there. (Personally, I'm partial to a silverized kapton polyimide bubble wrap system but maybe that's just me.)
Do we know that we'll need at least one greenhouse? We do. Somebody should be working on sending robots to make clear panels from Martian materials. And dig tunnels. And make bricks. For crying out loud, can we at least send some goddamn food? It's utterly crucial. It's heavy, it's large. It's, to say the least, established technology. If well chosen and packed it can survive high G launches and years in orbit. Let's see if the University of Oregon will send five pounds of local salmon to wait in Mars orbit for retrieval. Betcha that if one farm state announced that they were launching a payload of their products, that around the world several dozen others would step up to the plate. And even if most of those missions never launched, they would end up funding research in storage and rocketry and all sorts of other things that we could stand to have more people taking their shot at.
Reading this, are you afraid of what happens if "that sort of people", people who "aren't real experts" were to take their clumsy steps into the world of launching rockets and sophisticated aerospace engineering? Yeah, whatever. I have a hell of a lot more confidence in a program run by a bunch of professors and students at, say, UW Madison than I do in what we already live with: programs run by the likes of Rupert Murdoch and the Saudi royal family. Go for it - tell me that Rupert Murdoch launching payloads the size of a truck, which he does on a regular basis, is less dangerous than a bunch of Research Triangle geeks getting the North Carolina government to fund a payload of twenty pounds of barbeque with some frozen blueberries and local corn. Or some pullovers made of some of that fine North Carolina cotton.
And, of course, all of the same arguments apply to a mission to the moon.
Every gram we send, every cubic centimeter of material we send, every item we can render "dealt with" makes it easier for the rest of the program to get done. So what the hell is everybody waiting for?
The New York Observer has a good piece of the sort they specialize in on the likely impact on the New York area real estate market of the Lehman Brothers and Merrill-Lynch crashes. Even if you have never been east of the Mississippi and/or have never owned anything more valuable than a signed Dead Kennedy's CD, you might want to read this. It's a good, earthy counterpoint to all the vague "the sky is falling" and equally vague "everything is just fine - really" pieces that are currently all over the internet. And it's a good take on how things are going in big money circles in general these days. To quote the piece:
I'm still reluctant to try to estimate damage. Last night I was predicting as many as 400 dead within a week and 200,000 people whose lives will be substantively damaged by something like their house being badly flooded or losing their job. I'm sticking with those numbers, though none of the reports I've seen have mentioned any fatalities at all. Note, btw, within a week. One of the things that 9/11 taught me is that many of the deaths and other casualties happen days or even weeks after a disaster looks to have passed. Not just from inability to reach medical attention but from folks like a client of mine who have strokes or were otherwise already vulnerable and don't make it through the resultant chaos of moving, bad access to medication, or simply infections, connective tissue damage, and other treatable problems that are left untreated for too long.
I never get used to how many people will insist that a company or individual must be right about something because they have a lot of money. That General Motors must be brilliant about cars because, well, they're really big. Or, most famously, that Microsoft in general and Bill Gates in specific must be great geniuses on everything because surely anybody with that much wealth and power must be a genius.