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Posts Tagged ‘space tourism’

Who was it that once said “Charachter is Destiny”? I think that truer words were probably never spoken when it comes to predicting how a given individual will turn out in life, but this old saying may also be equally applicable to the question of  Humanity’s ultimate fate as a whole. Who we fundamentally ARE, both as persons and as a species surely determines, to a large extent, where we will all wind up in the end.  So, if you want to make educated guesses about Human Destiny, then probably a good place to start is by asking the fundamental question- “Who are we?”… What is the basic nature of our species? The answer to that question should give us a good idea of where we are headed.

I’ll tell you my own theory about human nature, that I arrived at as both an amateur student of history, and as a critical observer of human individual and group behavior. Here’s what I think about people… I think that Humankind can be divided into two groups- I call these groups the Accepters, and the Dreamers. I think that an objective assessment of human history  ( and indeed, of human present ) reveals manifestly that the former group is by far the more prevalent of the two groups. I have observed that -on average- for about every ten people who are open-minded and courageous enough to believe that a good or great thing is possible and worth investing time and effort in,  there are usually about ninety other people who will… A) lack the intellectual curiosity to even consider the possibility of a given good or great thing, … B.) summarily dismiss the notion of a new good or great thing ( if they ever did consider it ), on the simple basis of it being unprecedented – especially if it involves any work or risk on their part,… and C.)  glibly and without the slightest thought as to the alternatives, accept almost any misery, suffering, disease, war, enslavement, injury and outrage as a routine and unavoidable part of life, rather than use a little imagination to aspire to something better than what they have now.

I never fail to be amazed by the things that people will put up with in their lives, and how they will come to just accept as routine, so many things that  should not- and need not- be. In my opinion, a large part of human nature is just laziness and ambivalence. What else could possibly explain how so many people just sit there and take it without doing anything? We all accept so much in this world that is bad and wrong that need not be so. We leave so many things unchanged and undone, that NEED to be changed and done, simply because we don’t CARE enough to do anything. Who will challenge the truth of that statement?

 Another undeniably large part of  human character is selfishness. The scientifically-proven, objectively-observed, and mathematically -measured SUCCESS of survival-of-the-fittest capitalism as the socio-economic system which CONSISTENTLY creates the most human progress, and creates the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people, PROVES the inherent prevalence of selfishness in human nature. The most forceful impetus for human action and motivation in this life seems to be self- reward, NOT an interest in helping others. Micheal Douglases’ famous ( infamous?) charachter ” Gordon Gecko” had it about right when he said that ” Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all it’s forms, greed for life, for money, for love, for knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.” Self-interest acts powerfully in capitalism , in concert with basic human nature, to create wealth and prosperity. It’s not so much that capitalism works because that’s how it SHOULD be, it works rather, because it’s based on a cold, hard realization of how things ARE with us. That is not to say that all human motives are bad. They aren’t.  It would be wrong to say that ALL human activity and motivation is based on a desire to expend the least possible effort for the greatest possible personal gain.  But it would be fair to say that a large percentage of human activity is so-motivated.

Given these facts of human nature, it’s not hard to see why the world is what it is- both the bad and the good. You take laziness, ambivalence, selfishness, and some genuine but vaguely-defined good intentions towards others, and turn them loose upon the world and what you see is pretty much what you get.  Progress and stagnation, wealth and poverty, war and peace, side by side. I think it all boils down to this… A lot of us care about others to some extent. Most of us, for instance don’t WANT there to be starving children in Africa. We care about that situation to an extent. It’s just that we don’t care ENOUGH about it to actually do the things necessary to make sure those people have food, because that would require work and self sacrifice. So, by-and-large, it’s like this- humans have the capacity to care about others, but they usually care about themselves a bit more. Predictably, this has mixed results in terms of the world, and the societies that humans create.

In light of my admittedly somewhat cynical view of human nature, it would be reasonable of you to assume that my outlook and predictions for mankind’s ultimate fate would be largely pessimistic. That assumption would be both reasonable, and incorrect.

While it’s easy to get depressed sometimes by looking around ones-self at all of the woe and trouble that the Accepters of this world tolerate and indeed CREATE by their actions and inactions in this life,  one also doesn’t have to look very far to be inspired either, by the efforts of the Dreamers- by the people in this life who will not accept this thing or that, who toil and strive to change this thing, or to improve that other thing, and who usually labor alone with little company except for the  ridicule of the Accepters. The Dreamers are like stars in the night, and the darkness  in which they work merely reinforces by contrast that which they are, and that which others are not.

The saving grace of the Dreamers is that , while smaller in number, they usually accomplish ten times what any given Accepter does, because they work harder, and because they are more highly motivated. By definition, they care more. So while it is true, that the throngs of the lazy, the uncaring, and the selfish can bring much that is wrong to pass upon this earth, it is also equally true that the efforts , courage, and vision of a committed few can counteract much of it.  There is always a struggle going on somewhere between Dreamers and Accepters. You don’t have to look hard to find it. The Acceptors always have the numbers, and the Dreamers always try harder. I root for the Dreamers mainly- at least when the Dream in question is plausible and merely difficult to achieve… ( I consider myself to be a frustrated Dreamer for what it’s worth ). It’s hard to know who ultimately will prevail in this age old struggle between the Dreamers and the Accepters, but I think the Dreamers have the edge because of a third group of people…The Visionaries.

 For every ten thousand Accepters,there are maybe a few hundred Dreamers. The net result of the interactions between these two groups amounts (for the most part ) to a stalemate. Sometimes one group has the upper hand for a while, and sometimes the other does. But for every ten thousand Dreamers, there is also one Visionary, and their works sometimes have the potential to outweigh the works of  the Dreamers and the Accepters combined. Sometimes these unique individuals can unite the efforts of all the other Dreamers and even win the hearts and  long-suppressed hopes of  many of the Accepters, in pursuit of some very noble thing every so often. Every now and then, you will get a dreamer that comes down the pike who has not only the faith to see that a thing is both noble and  possible, but has the vision to see the path to the dream’s fulfillment, has the courage to see the journey through, has the eloquence to communicate the dream to others, and most of all, has the pig-headed force of will to simply not be denied this one thing no matter what. Most fields of human endeavor have visionaries every now and then. They come along  maybe every hundred years or so. They ignore the ignorant and the fearful around them, they apply their particular skills and talents to making some good or great thing a reality, and then, like all spirits who are bound to flesh for a while, they are gone. Then the rest of us gaze upon their works and remember them. Their works are always their legacy. It’s the visionaries who give me hope. Those people who see just a little bit farther than the rest of us. The Founding Fathers who gathered in Independence Hall in Philadelphia in 1776 to give voice to some long felt, but never adequately expressed ideas were visionaries… ” We hold these truths to be self-evident…” That was a powerful vision!  In science, Galileo and Einstein come to mind. In politics, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. , and Ronald Reagan. Strange bedfellows you say, Dr. King and the Gipper? Not really. Each had a true love in his heart for individual freedom, a desire to unleash it’s power as a force for good in this world, and the passion and eloquence to make the case well for the ideas and truths they cherished. They weren’t that different at all.

Emerson described the fundamental nature of visionaries…

” Self-trust is the essence of heroism. It is the state of the state of the soul at war, and it’s objects are the last defiance of falsehood and wrong, and the power to bear all that can be inflicted by evil agents.”…”The hero is a mind of such balance that no disturbances can shake his will, but pleasantly and as it were merrily he advances to his own music, alike in frightful alarms and in the tipsy mirth of universal dissoluteness.”

At any rate, that is my basic view of human nature, and it is my view of that innate human character that forms the basis of my predictions for our ultimate fate as a species. Honestly, there is enough bad and good in us, that I think it could break either way for us. But as I spin this great rhetorical roulette wheel, I am putting my money on the Dreamers and on a glorious, wonderful future for Humanity someday . I think I can plausibly imagine a world that is peaceful, happy, free, and just.  It’s not impossible that humanity could one day unite by establishing just a FEW basic, universally-accepted areas of common-ground. Cornerstones of a new era and a better world founded upon human rights, individual freedom, democratic principles of governance, and tolerance for all to worship God as they best see fit- or not at all. I am not saying it will happen, but I am saying that it COULD happen.

 Despite my semi-misanthropic view of humans, the one thing you have to give them, is that if something is possible, it’s a near-certainty that somebody somewhere- sooner or later- will do it. Especially if there is a buck to be made in the process. Sometimes I wonder how progress ever happens. But miraculously, it always seems to. And the rising tide of progress sooner or later lifts all boats, even if it does seem to lift some more than it does others. It’s certainly been a long, dirty, and bloody slog for humanity, but sometimes I think we might actually just make it.

What I wanted to do with this essay / blog entry is to share some of my thoughts on Human Destiny- and about what is possible if we DO “make it” as a species and manage to survive at least a few thousand years more. Nobody can foresee everything, but I do have some thoughts and predictions for a few specific fields of human endeavor that are near and dear to me.

We live in incredible times. Sometimes I will read on the Internet about areas of scientific or technological research that seem to be knocking on the door of things that humans could have never imagined a hundred years ago. Think about how far, and how fast we have come of late. It took us ten thousand years to get from hunter-gatherer status to something as simple as the light bulb, but in the last 50 years, we have unlocked the secret of the atom, decoded the human genome, and walked on the moon. The potential likely advances in many areas of human endeavor  in the next 100 years are breathtaking to consider. Physics, Medicine, Agriculture, Energy, Astronomy, Communications, Information Technology, Computers, Networking, Robotics, the spread of Economic Freedom, the spread of Political Freedom, the establishment of Universal Human Rights, the elimination ( or reduction ) of War, Disease, and Poverty, Space Exploration, Engineering and Materials, Electronic Devices, and even Entertainment. We are primed for advances beyond our wildest dreams in many of these areas. Perhaps the most fundamental , underlying, and critical technological advancement of all – the one that is going to make all the rest of these things possible, is humanity’s new-found and  widespread access to personal computers, and the information technology that these devices make possible. Certain things were simply never going to be possible for mankind without the power to process large volumes of information far faster than the human brain ever could. The E8 structure could never have been specified. The hydrocodes that made nuclear fusion possible could not have been modeled. The ability to unravel the hundreds of billions of lines of coded information that comprise the human genetic program would have been set beyond our reach forever without these particular advances. In fact, I think that the recent advances in  personal computers and information technology are a critical threshold for our species- without them, there were permanent limits on we what we could do and become. But WITH these things? Who knows what is possible now?

 Perhaps the most powerful aspect of these advances is that we have compounded the power of these devices and capabilities by linking  ideas and information together via the Internet. What will be the final result of  connecting the ideas, the hopes, the knowledge, the wisdom, the dreams, and the fears of seven billions souls in a network of open communication and collaboration? We shall see, but I suspect that it now becomes not so much a case of what IS possible anymore, but rather a  question of what ISN’T.

 These are the times in which we are blessed to live. It is a Great Awakening of sorts. The light of Knowledge and of Ideas is shining into all the dark places of the world now. What truth can be hidden now?   All of the ideas, all of the knowledge, and all of the possibilities in the world are cast at our feet like pearls for us to pick up and consider . This blog entry represents an attempt on my part to share some of my considerations of the pearls I found as I went.

Human Possibility # 1:  Mankind Becoming a Permanent Space-Faring Species…

The possibility of Mankind establishing a signifigant presence in space, and making a permanent home out there among the stars is an absolutely critical component of us reaching our full potential as a species. The Apollo program of the 60’s and early 70’s represented- like the power of the personal computer- a critical threshold for us. It represented another way-point on humanity’s journey to a better future. The reason this is so, is that the number one pre-requisite for us to have a glorious future someday is that we have to have a future period…That is to say, for any of our hopes to come true,  we first need to survive. If you step back and look at Humanity’s position in the great scheme of things,  right now, all of our fragile eggs are in one tiny basket. This is not prudent, for we are an utterly minuscule species with  a very tenuous foothold on a tiny speck of rock and water hurtling through the vastness of deep space at insane speeds. We spin  around a  tiny star, and that tiny star is just one in a galaxy of hundreds of billions of them. That Galaxy itself spins through a universe composed of hundreds of billions of other galaxies. Sooner or later-be it tomorrow or  a thousand years from now- we are going to face our terminal crisis if we don’t get off this rock. Be it from war, disease, extra-terrestrial impactors, genetically engineered super-viruses, overpopulation, quantum experiments gone awry, unanticipated consequences of artificial intelligence, or trends/events  involving our our sun or our planet’s radiation shield, – EVENTUALLY, we are going to zig when we should have zagged as a species, and we are going to go the way of the dinosaurs unless we do something to improve our odds. There are just too many perils, trials, unknowns, and hazards out there that we face for us to simply assume that our survival is a lock if we stay where we are. There are NO such guarantees in this hard, cold universe.

 In fact, the deafening silence out there in the universe that SETI is finding is ominous, for it almost IMPLIES that if it IS possible for complex life to arise by natural processes ( ie. independent of design ), then- for whatever reason- that life largely ceases to advance or exist much beyond  a level of technology approximating our own. Otherwise, we would be detecting these advanced space-faring civilizations out there who made it into the great expanse before they destroyed themselves. We may not be the first species to have reached this way-point where computer power and information technology make it possible to delve into areas of research that simply aren’t possible until you reach this particular technological threshold. Those areas of research hold unknown, and unknowable perils. I am referring especially to areas of research in extreme quantum physics, artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and synthetic biology. These types of capabilities in the fields of computer science and information technology may be the usual immediate precursors to an advanced species’ imminent self-destruction for all we know. There may be something we haven’t considered yet that we are about t unleash upon ourselves in our cleverness. The current situation reminds me a little bit of the Manhattan Project scientist who realized the night before the Trinity shot, that there was a slim possibility the atomic chain reaction might ignite earth’s atmosphere and kill every living thing on the face of the planet. He spent the night with a couple of grad students checking and re-checking calculations. In the end, it turned out that it wasn’t possible for that to happen, and that’s all well and good I suppose, but what worries me is that a large collection of the brightest minds on the planet hadn’t even considered the possibility until the night before the test. Our knowledge and enthusiasm for technological advancement can never be questioned, but our wisdom and caution in such matters is suspect at best. 

At any rate, we need to get some of our eggs in a few other baskets, and quickly I think. If we stay here, then sooner or later, it ends here. Everything that lives either is growing or dying. Nothing stays the same, and we have just about reached the limits of sustainable human population here on our planet- indeed, we are almost certainly past those sustainable limits. We need to be thinking now about “what next”. Recent advances in astronomy have shown us just how prevalent planetary bodies are in the galaxy and in the universe. In fact, we are now just on the cusp of detecting earth-sized planets. Projects along the lines of the Terrestrial Planet Finder are going to make it possible to directly image those earth-type planets , and to analyze their atmospheres / compositions. It’s a statistical certainty that there are other planets out there compatible with human life and colonization. Probably, a few of them are just within our ultimate capability as a species to reach with slower-than-light travel. That’s the jump we have to make somehow, someway if we are to survive. At a minimum, establishing outposts on other planetary bodies in our own solar system would be a good first step along that path. I heard recently that somewhere in Scandinavia, scientists are building an ark of sorts- seeds and genetic samples of life-forms that exist here on earth- a hedge against catastrophic climate and habitat changes here on our planet. It’s a great idea, but I would like to see an ark of this sort placed somewhere other than on this planet as well- just in case.

Here are my predictions for the human race as pertains to Space Exploration: We WILL become a  space-faring species, and establish a permanent home out there beyond the planet of our birth. The first dipping of our little toe into the water that was Apollo will become a full headfirst plunge into space before it’s all over. The tentative drawing-back from deep space that has characterized the last couple of decades, and our pointless  piddling around in earth-orbit with the ISS and the Space Shuttle, merely represented a necessary acknowledgement of the limitations of government-run, not-for-profit Space Programs. Such programs may have gotten us our first ” Giant leap for mankind”, but as we have seen since,  they don’t have the capability alone, of establishing a sustainable and significant human presence in space. For one thing, government-funded space programs consume insane amounts of money, which is barely justifiable on a moral basis when one considers that war, hunger and disease and poverty are all running rampant here on earth. Secondly, they do not serve any particular purpose from a consumer standpoint, nor are government-run space-programs ruled by the laws of supply and demand. Their product is not  improved by competition in the marketplace. Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” does not guide the direction or implementation of their wasteful (and often pointless ) activities, nor does it provide for the efficient use of resources and treasure that is commonly inherant in for-profit operations. This explains the mindless, pointless, directionless activities  of NASA in recent decades, and also explains the waste, fraud and abuse that largely characterizes what NASA seems poised to give us for decades to come. Government-funded and managed space programs are are NOT the vehicle by which humanity will achieve it’s permanent transition into space. With all of the needs that humans have here on earth, there are ALWAYS going to be definite limits to levels of spending on these sorts of things because they do not really fulfill any immediate human needs per-say. We need a space program that GENERATES wealth, not one that consumes it, and if we do not find a way to drive the next era of space exploration forward using the engine of free-enterprise, then financial obstacles will represent the final insurmountable roadblock that dooms our species to live and die here on Terra Firma.  At best, using the Apollo model, we MAY achieve a single plant-the-flag misson to Mars in the next 100 years, but even that will be taxing the limits of what we can afford when we consider the budgetary crisis we face now as  a result of decades of fiscal irresponsibility and deficit spending on the part of the US Government. 

There are two critical thresholds which we must achieve to put mankind’s journey to the stars back on track, and to make our presence in space significant and permanent-

 1. A radically cheaper mass-to-orbit system must be built.

  2. A consumer-demand driven, market-force guided, and for-profit-based  aerospace industry MUST take the lead in terms of putting humans in Space. 

Government spending cannot get us where we need to go, EXCEPT to the extent that it invests in infrastructure conducive to private industry achieving the two goals listed above. A space-based equivalent of the US government’s investment in the intercontinental railroad would be a MUCH better use of funds than George W. Bush’s multi-zillion dollar plan to basically have NASA repeat the Apollo program and build a bunch of government funded moon bases.

The cheaper mass-to-orbit system I am referring to  is the Space Elevator. (A ground-to-orbit “tether” which stays up based on the principles of centrifugal force). I discussed this scheme in more detail in my last essay on Space Exploration, so I won’t get into it too much more here, except to say that I am on record as predicting that the Space Elevator will certainly become a reality one day soon. The missing component that made such a structure impossible up until recently was the lack of a material capable of bearing it’s own weight in a structure of that size. That problem is solved. Carbon nanotubes do have the necessary strength -to-weight ratio. And as I’ve said before, if it’s possible to do something, sooner or later, somebody WILL do it… ESPECIALLY if there is a buck to be made for doing it. Believe me, there are a LOT of bucks to be made by building a cheaper, safer, and more reliable mass-to-orbit system. 

When the cost of getting people and things into orbit drops a hundred-fold as a result of Space Elevator technology, then that’s when everything changes for us as a species. The path to Mars- and beyond- will then lay open to us.  Orbiting hotels, affordable space-tourism, and maybe even a beamed-power generation industry will put us in space permanently, and the power of consumer-demand and market-driven, profit-based BUSINESS competition will keep us there for good- not government spending. I believe that the Space Elevator will be built. I believe that one day, many humans will routinely live and work in earth-orbit. I believe that one day humans will live and die on Mars. I believe that one day humans will look down on Alpha Centauri from orbit. I believe that  humans will one-day live and die on another new Earth that we are going to find out there among the stars. Those are my predictions for the record.

Wikipedia Link on the Space Elevator:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_elevator

Human Possibility # 2: The Establishment of A New World Order Based upon Peace, Freedom, and Justice

 When I ponder Human Destiny, and I consider how it will all likely wind up for our species, I can’t help thinking of that scene from the movie Terminator II, where a young John Connor is talking to his Terminator. They are watching two young boys playing together, pretending to kill each other in imaginary battles. The point being made by the director in this scene is that aggression and killing seem almost to be hardwired into our fundamental nature. Connor looks over at the cyborg and asks ” We’re not going to make it are we?”, and the Terminator replies ” It is in your nature to destroy yourselves.” I remember thinking at the time I saw this movie, what a plausible and ( potentially ) prophetic statement this was. Agreement among men and nations on even the most obvious and basic  truths seems so elusive doesn’t it? And our tendency as a species to wantonly kill one another, and to consistently “do unto others as we would NOT have them do unto us” seems fairly clear by any reasonable reading of history. And though many issues of human contention remain largely unresolved through centuries and millinea, and our innate hostility and aggression as a species remains unchanged, our technological capability to unleash the means of our own destruction continues to grow exponentially with each passing year.

We just barely survived nuclear self-annihilation in the dawn of the atomic age as the two cowboy super-powers stared down main-street at one another at high-noon with their WMD six-guns at their sides and their sweaty, twitchy palms resting on the pistol-grips. In the last few decades the nation-states of the Earth have amassed enough explosive firepower to kill every man, woman and child on the planet ten-times over, and scientists have laid that power in the hands of governments and militaries whose wisdom and intentions have often been suspect at best. The Cold War was a tense era, and just one mistake- just one accidental or rogue launch of a single SS18 with it’s multiple MRV’s targeted on American cities would have been the trigger that set off the sequence of the final moments of mankind. Mankind got lucky because one of the super-powers in this Old-West showdown was founded upon an unworkable and completely unsustainable economic and political system – communism . The Soviets simply couldn’t compete with capitalism and democracy objectively speaking, and thankfully things settled down a bit when our Soviet comrades folded and threw in their chips. But lest we forget, the large part of those missiles are still out there-  in the hands of a less-sure command and control structure. Add to that danger the trend towards nuclear proliferation, and now the rise a new superpower ( China ) possessed of great wealth, questionable intentions, and a growing nuclear arsenal, and we must not forget that we are NOT out of the Nuclear Woods just yet. In addition, there is a growing threat  of atomic weapons falling into the hands of  unstable regimes and state-sponsors of islamic terrorism. Doomsday could still happen. The centrifuges are spinning in Iran today,  Musharraf is sitting precariously perched atop an islamic nuclear-armed tinderbox in Pakistan, and the United Nations passes empty resolutions and writes reports. The West is fiddling while Rome burns.

 The need for the nations of the world to reach some common ground, and to forge some universal agreement on a few basic tenets of acceptable human culture is not merely a hope. It is a necessity. We simply can’t continue on like this forever with the same old tensions, disagreements, wars, and contentions keeping the nations of the world at each other’s throats in perpetuity. A New World Order MUST be made if we are to survive, because the weapons that humans have now devised to use against one another are getting too dangerous to even be allowed to exist- never mind to be used.

 But even if a nuclear World War III WERE to happen, while the loss of life would be great, it still would not be a true worst-case scenario for the human species, because there is a likelihood that SOME of us would survive to rebuild what’s left. Mankind might well survive even the worst-case scenario of the nuclear age. But far greater dangers await us than the H-bomb. Pandora’s box has only been cracked open a bit so far. It opens much wider in the century that lies ahead.

We will NOT survive the worst-case scenario of the age of genetically- engineered super-virus WMD’s. It has been said that the 19th century was the age of chemistry, the 2oth century was the age of physics, and that the 21rst century will be the age of biology. That is probably a true statement. The age of Biology is upon us, and it’s weapons will prove far deadlier than those of Chemistry and Physics. Advances in computers and information technology have brought us to the point where we can unlock the secrets of the genetic code and indeed, to the point where we have the abilty to re-write that code. Viruses and bacteria can be, and already have been, modified, augmented, and given new capabilities. Couple this genetic code re-writing capability to the free-flow of data of ANY kind around the world via the Internet, and we are looking at a potential scenario where hackers and genetic programmers can write, exchange, and even unleash genetic programs in the same way that they now create and unleash computer programs. We made it past chemistry and physics, but the power of biology – both for good and for evil- FAR surpasses these things, and the capability to re-write genetic code may be the final turning point for us. I say again- a New World Order isn’t a hope, it’s a necessity.

So does all this  mean we are doomed? No. But it does mean that we have got to get past this era of warring nation-states, and adversarial, hostile relationships between fundamentally incompatible civilizations who are hell-bent on destroying one another. We HAVE to settle some things, and establish some common ground- even if it’s just on a few basic matters of human rights, religious tolerance, and democratic government. Even if we need to just slug it out militarily- at great cost of life- to decide which ideology wins and which one loses, these matters need to be SETTLED one way or another. Continued conflict isn’t an option forever.We need to create a worldwide agreement on some basic things that will allow us to coexist as cultures who tolerate one another, accept one another, and ( gradually ) grow closer together. If we cant achieve that- and the seperate nation-states remain committed to each other’s destruction, the technology of the 21rst century is going to eventually put the means of achieving that destruction in the hands of people who will use it.

As I look around at the geopolitical situation, and survey the forces and powers that may aid or hinder the creation of a New World Order founded on Peace, Freedom, Human Rights, and Justice, I think that the greatest threat that humanity may ever face is the acquisition of biological WMD capability by islamic theocracies who simply are not capable of coexisting peacefully with the western democracies on a fundamental ideological level… In fact If I had to guess what one thing would wind up killing us all – if we wind up not making it as a species- I would guess that it would be a scenario that involves Islam and biological WMD’s.

Here is a link to an Article on the new Field of Synthetic Biology by Rick Weiss of the Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/200712/16/AR2007121601900.html

When I survey the rest of the NON-islamic world, I am more encouraged.  I don’t see anything out there ideology-wise that would prevent humanity from moving closer and closer over time to a more-or-less friendly collection of democratic governments who respect human rights, provide for religious tolerance, give people a fair say in their own governance, and  achieve at least minimum standards of prosperity for their peoples. The non-islamic world gets a little closer to that all the time. I can envision these friendly democracies perhaps having differences- for instance, different governments may tinker with various levels of taxation and have different spending priorities. There will be varying,  greater-or-lesser percentages of government and private sector involvement in different aspects of  providing for people’s needs, but by and large these matters will work themselves out within acceptable parameters peacefully as long as the voters of each nation have a voice in what their politicians do. None of these small differences is necessarily fatal to friendly relations among democratic nations . For example- Norway may have more socialistic aspects of governance in areas such as health-care. France may decide to have higher taxes and a shorter work week. That’s fine. That’s not a threat to America or anybody else. These cultures aren’t out to conquer the world, or to impose any form of oppressive rule upon anybody. That’s the kind of world we should be striving to build- a world that agrees on the larger aspect of a few fundamental principles, and implements the details of those principles locally and in such a manner as the voters of each country choose to implement them. In many respects, the world is already headed that way.

Consider how far Democracy, Human Rights, and Freedom have come in the last 50 years.  Many nations now share a large degree of similarity and agreement on these fundamental matters to a greater or lesser extent. People in many far-flung places are moving closer and closer together through peaceful interactions, travel, immigration,  trade, interconnected economies, the Internet, and international currency flow. Consider the combined landmass, the combined natural resources,the combined wealth and capital, the combined Gross Domestic Product, the combined technology,  and the combined military-might of the countries in the world right now who enjoy at least some form of political, cultural, and economic freedom, and whose cultures do not fundamentally threaten one another. Think about it. We are STRONG!

 Honestly, you’d almost have to say that the free peoples of the earth have a serious advantage in these things at this point, relative to the forces of totalitarianism and opression. The war-weary nations of Europe have united politically and economically,  and have established enough common ground for friendly relations and cooperation that that blood-soaked continent can look forward to a new century with genuine hope of peace and prosperity. Britain, Ireland, Scotland, France, a re-united Germany, Spain, Portugal, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Italy, and Turkey. Together, these countries have a bright future ahead of them. And now most of Eastern Europe is free and democratic as well, with slowly growing hope and prosperity- Poland, Slovakia, the Chech Republic, Ukraine, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Belarus,and Romania can add their names to the list of peaceful Western democracies and look ahead with some hope. Look around the world, and you see the astounding prosperity and power of democratic, capitalist socio-economic powerhouses like  America, Canada,  Australia, India, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, New Zealand, and Israel. They have strong, growing, vibrant democracies, are largely free, and are relatively prosperous. As a result of trade, China ( which now includes Hong Kong ), and it’s people- a billion strong- are embracing the power of economic freedom, and it’s very possible that political freedom may follow closely behind. The Internet is helping there as well. A little freedom is like a little fire. It’s dangerous, and it has a tendency to spread rapidly. The economic trojan horse that we rolled into China may unleash freedom there in many other aspects of that society. We will see.

The last miserable outposts of communism and dictator-based ideology in places like Cuba, South Korea, and some piss-ant countries in Africa that nobody remembers the name of, are looking more and more like sand-castles about to be washed away by the tide of a new era. In Africa, Asia, and Central/South America the real problem is not so much ideology, or religious contention, as it is simple poverty, but global free trade is helping in many of these places, and despite the poverty, there is no fundamental  reason why the world should feel threatened by most of these nations- and nothing in them that would prevent the good people of this world from continuing to find common ground and collaboration. Hugo Chavez is just a simian buffoon railing against historical forces he doesn’t understand, and cannot hope to control. He might as well command the wind to not blow, and the rain to not fall. He will change nothing as we head into the next century. I don’t fear a relapse of any major part of the world into communism . That threat has had it’s day. Economically, it just can’t deliver for the people who live under it, and, given a choice, most people would rather have a democratic voice in their own governance than be ruled by an un-elected elite.

 Russia is worrisome I suppose, but those people just seem to have a permanent need for autocracy , and for a strong central government. What are you going to do? It’s sad, but you have to sympathize with their situation too. Things have been so bad for so long, that maybe only a strong, authoritarian figure like Putin has a chance of straightening out that mess. Give him credit where credit is due. He has turned that country’s financial situation around, and he recognizes that the country’s future depends on utilization of their natural resources. He chose to nationalize the oil resources rather than have them exploited by foreign companies which WAS happening. It was the right thing to do.  Their country is making a difficult transition into the 21rst century, but I don’t see them going back to communism- nobody wants that, including them. I think that Putin is just strengthening his own power to give himself the ability to put Russia’s mess back in order as best he can. Ultimately, Russia’s destiny lies with Europe. Russia is a   European, Christian democracy, so why would it be otherwise? Like China, Russia will depend on trade with the west to bootstrap it’s nation into the 21rst century. Putin has put Russia on that course, even if the loss of some human rights in that country is disturbing. Despite their internal problems, Russia is NOT a threat to the west anymore. They aren’t out to rule the world like the Soviets were. They’ll come around in their own time. They have vast natural resources, and a legacy of technological know-how in the areas of space, military weapons, industrial equipment, and nuclear power that can form the core of a new capitalist infrastructure. The West and Europe should be building stronger trade relations with them, instead of ostracising them economically, irritating them militarily, and driving them into the arms of the ne’er-do-wells of the world like Iran and North Korea. We can surely offer the Russians a lot more than these countries can, in a friendly long-term relationship.

The only thing that worries me very much about the world, in terms of our ability to EVENTUALLY reach a common ground for the nations based on peace and freedom is Islam. There are some real and potentially unsolvable problems with this particularly vile belief system that make it in many ways FUNDAMENTALLY INCOMPATIBLE with progress, freedom, and democracy. And by real problems, I mean problems above and beyond it’s medieval repressiveness, it’s cruelty, and it’s oppression of women. Problem Number One is that Islam does not merely purport to be a religious belief system  or a mode of worshiping God, but rather , it conflates religion and politics by laying claim to an actual right of POLITICAL governance over it’s followers via the rule of un-elected clerical rulers whose word is law. This is unacceptable. Period. You look at many other religions- Christianity, Mormonism, Buddhism, Judeaism, Hinduism, etc and you see that these religions are capable of coexisting within the context of a secular government that protects the rights of ALL faiths to worship as they see fit. Islam however, as a system of both worship AND governance, when left to it’s own devices, and allowed to blossom into it’s full intended expression, is NOT capable of peaceful coexistence in a free, democratic society. It seeks to rule, it seeks to oppress, and it seeks to impose itself upon everybody through Sharia Law. That is not to say that muslims are incapable of getting along with anybody else, it’s just they only seem to be able to do so when an external force of some kind – like a stong secular governmet- keeps them in their place. Islam ALWAYS has to be watched with a wary gimlet eye by freedom-loving people.

The other problem with Islam that makes it such a threat to progress and peace,  is it’s viscous intolerance for other belief systems. A muslim in America may face the peril of being mocked or laughed at, but a Christian in Saudi Arabia faces literal beheading for expressing his or her faith. You don’t see Buddhists rolling hand grenades into muslim prayer services, or followers of Falun Gong flying airplanes into buildings full of women and children, or Hindus strapping bombs to retarded persons and sending them into crowded marketplaces. Only muslims do such things. The true-believers and the fanatic followers of islam seem to be able to rationalize ANY heinous act, no matter how vile or unjustifiable a given act may seem to a normal, rational human being. In Islam, there are the believers and there are the infidels. The infidels are the enemies of the believers, and it is the DUTY of the believers to destroy the infidels, or to make them submit to the word of Allah through the sword of Jihad, and through the Fatwas of the Clerics who rule the faithful. This bullshit is totally unacceptable, and is totally incompatible with any kind of positive future for mankind. The clerics, the madrassas, and the islamic state-run propaganda machines have conditioned a large part of the un-educated muslim faithful to HATE the west, to hope for it’s destruction, and to cheer when any act of violent terrorism is committed against innocent men, women or children- just so long as they are infidels. THAT is the biggest threat facing the world today ( sorry, it’s not global warming folks ). There are LEIGONS of angry, seething, hopeless, ignorant, hate-filled young muslim men who are ready and happy to commit any atrocity their rulers would ask of them. The ironic part of Sharia Rule is that, by coupling an oppressive political system to a deity worship system, the devout are convinced to willingly and enthusiastically hold the chains of their enslavement in their own hands.

This is not to say that all muslims are evil.  Indeed, like all of us talking pink monkeys here on our tiny blue marble, most muslims simply adhere to the belief system in which they happened to be born and raised- as most of us do. Most muslims care more about taking care of their family, and about trying to earn a descent living, than about spreading the word of Allah through Jihad. Because of this fact, the west DOES have a chance to partially defuse the threat of Islam, IF it can successfully de-couple the political aspirations of islam from the worship aspects of it. But to accomplish that, Islam must have IMPOSED upon it, the rule of a strong secular government that denies all political power to the clerics, and which effectively separates the fanatics / jihadists from the resources of the nation-state. Secular governments must FORCE muslim practicioners to reject natural Islamic tendencies of aggression towards other belief systems. Only a strong secular government can impose and enforce Human Rights protections upon the followers ( and potential victims ) of Islam. Without these externally-imposed Human Rights protections, Sharia Law, and the Clerics will hold sway by default, for that is the custom of Islam. All muslims must be made to learn tolerance of others if they are to ever join the family of men and nations in peace. They must be made to understand that they may bow towards mecca three times a day if they wish, but they will NOT be allowed to prevent women from driving, from voting,from working, from showing their faces, or from associating freely with whomever they please. Nor will muslims  be allowed to impose their belief system upon others who choose to believe differently in the New World Order.

 So, to sum up- the only hope for the peaceful coexistence of Islam with the rest of the free world, is for Islamic peoples to be ruled by strong central governments, and to be forced against their will to behave and conduct themselves in a manner contrary to their natural and historic tendencies. That is the best we can hope for from Islam- that they will be put in their proper place, and made to go sulk and brood in the corner with their hate and intolerance where they are not a threat because they are ruled by others with better ideas.

 I believe that the only way for the western democracies and secular governance to impose it’s will upon Islam , and for the rest of the world to drag these intractable people kicking and screaming into the modern age, is by the use of military force. I just can’t see any other way. It’s going to have to be done sooner or later, and I expect that in the end, the muslims will FORCE the west to just go into that part of the world and establish a new way of life there. I predict that radical Islam will accomplish it’s own downfall by lashing out at the West one time too many. They are going to do something so viscous and breathtakingly evil, that we will have no choice but to use all the capabilities at our disposal and end this tit-for-tat kabuki dance.

There should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that the jihadists would , and will, use a nuclear weapon on an American city if they ever get their hands on one. Their hatred, and their ability to rationalization ANY evil act is total and complete. Sooner or later, they will get what they seek.  I predict a nuclear 911  in the next 50 years. London or New York will be wiped from the face of the Earth, and I predict that the west will do one of two things in response ( It will depend on whether the US caualty count reaches into the millions or not, and on which political party occupies the white house on that fatefiul day). It will be either a full-scale nuclear assault on every single islamic state-sponsor of terrroism ( including the “kernel of evil ” Saudi Arabia ) that will wipe the plague of radical islam from the face of the earth forever , OR a total and PERMANENT military occupation of the entire middle-east by the West, who will have have had by-god-enough of these people. You watch, It’s going to come down to one of those two options one of these days. These people are just going to keep pushing us, and pushing us, and pushing us, until one day we are going to have to open up a can of whoop-ass on them .  And it’s just as well. We need to do that anyways. They’ve gotten away with too much already.

Someday…When the radical Islam has a western boot put permanently on it’s throat for as long as the world lasts…

Someday… When China holds it’s first free and fair elections…

Someday… When the Korean Peninsula is re-united as one people with a common destiny.

Someday… When Russia Joins the Family of Europe that has been it’s destiny all along.

Someday… When the tired, poor people of Cuba finally say “Enough!” and string up their dictator from a lamp-post. 

Someday…  When the weary nations of the earth look around at each other and realize that they now have more in common than they have differences…

On that day the Lion really will lie down with the Lamb, and the good people of the earth will come together to agree on some basic principles of human rights and democratic governance once and for all. Then a new age for humanity will begin, and the trillions of dollars we now spend on weapons and wars can be spent on eliminating hunger and want from our planet entirely.

 It can happen, and I believe that one day it will. It has to if we are to survive. I also believe that the west is going to have to settle accounts in epic fashion with the Islamic world before that day can arrive. Hopefully we can do it before bio-tech weapons make it possible for Islamic terrorist nation-states like Iran to kill us all.

Here is a link to an article about mentally retarded women being used by Al Queada as suicide-bombers in crowded Iraqi marketplaces- by AP writer Steven R. Hurst:

http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D8UHNN081&show_article=1

Human Possibility #3: The Post-Human Era is Ushered-in via Genetic Modification

The capability of Mankind to process large amounts of information on a scale only possible through the use of computers, represents a critical threshold for many aspects of  Human Destiny. In no other way is this more true than the fact that computers and advances in information technology  have allowed us to begin to understand, and to modify, genetic programming.  Were it not for this ability, it could truly be said that who we fundamentally ARE as a species is permanently limited. But with the ability to understand and modify genetic information, we now are aquiring – very rapidly – the ability to CHANGE who we fundamentally are.

Life- at it’s most basic level- is information. Everything that makes us what we are in the physical sense, has as it’s basis a complex, specified set of instructions coded in billions of lines of genetic programming and stored on the self-replicating information processor known as DNA.  I have argued at length with people on this blog, and on other blogs, about the likelihood of such an assemblage of complex, specified information assembling itself by natural un-guided processes from simple compounds ( never mind where the blank information processor that STORES said information came from in the first place ), but that’s neither here nor there. The fact is, the code exists, and we have acquired the ability to read it, and are slowly beginning to understand it. We also have aquired the means to change and re-write that code. The upshot of these developments is that EVERYTHING is on the table now. Nothing is assumed anymore. We are, quite simply, playing God here. The human genetic code is the most unlikely, and fantastically complex thing in the entire universe, and it will surely take us a long time to understand it all. But a lot is already becoming clear. Clear enough that I can state the following prediction with almost total certainty. All genetically passed diseases will be cured in the next hundred years. We are going to understand and specify on a very fundamental level, the information that makes these diseases what they are, and we are going to re-program that information. Period. Cancer, Diabetes, Heart Disease, Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Downs Syndrome… Gone. All of them. In less than 100 years. I guarantee it.

  There are even a number of companies who are very close to creating genetically modified partially-synthetic bacteria that can produce hydrogen fuel by the simple process of digesting cellulose and agricultural waste.  Fifty years from now, middle-eastern oil wont be worth the cost of shipping it here to use. Clean, cheap, non-polluting hydrogen derived as a direct result of genetic engineering will replace oil and coal as a fuel source.

Also, as our knowledge of the human genome grows, many POSITIVE genetically-specified traits- like raw intelligence, creativity, longevity and a thousand other skills and attributes-  will be identified, broken down to basic information, and programed into children before birth. Parents will be able to choose their kids’ attributes like las vegas tourists choosing food from the $5.00 buffet. 

Humanity won’t have to wait around for random genetic luck to give us an Albert Einstein every thousand years or so. We’ll whip up batches of fifty Einsteins at a time- with higher IQ’s, superior creativity and problem solving skills, more mathematical aptitude, and better hair. 

We may even identify a few traits- like raw IQ- that we judge to be UNIVERSALLY beneficial, and introduce those informatic changes into the programming of the WHOLE human race. At which point, we wouldn’t be quite human anymore would we? We would be augmented. Improved. We would be Post-Human… not just the creation of God, or of Darwin’s process ( depending on what you believe ) anymore, but rather, at least partially- what we have CHOSEN to be.

Imagine turning  50, 100, or  100,000 Albert Einsteins loose with time, resources, and the sole instruction to discover and make whatever is possible. What would we get? That’s hard to say, but I’ll  bet it would be pretty amazing. Why not do it?

 Humanity’s mastery of Chemistry has brought forth some very useful things. Humanity’s mastery of Physics has unlocked some amazing secrets, but Humanity’s mastery of Biology will change EVERYTHING.

And the ultimate prize? The most that Humanity could EVER hope for? Why not The Holy Grail itself? Question…What law of physics mandates that human life-spans MUST be limited to about 100 years? Cellular decay, telomer shortening, etc… etc… these processes are all written in the code. They are nothing more than programmed instructions. Who’s to say that we might not write a DIFFERENT code? A BETTER code. If there is anything that humanity should hope and strive for as our penultimate achievement before we end our journey as a species through this universe, should this not be it? Laugh if you will, but can anybody say for certain that it’s impossible now? I sure as hell won’t be around to see that day, but let me add this to my list of predictions- not only will disease be eradicated by the hand of man one day, but death itself is going to be given a serious run for it’s money before it’s all over.

Here is a link to some information on telomers and their role in Cellular Aging:

http://www.atozofhealth.com/Allergies/telomers.htm

 Human Possibility # 4: Mankind Comes to Know it’s True Place in the Universe, and answers “The Great Question”

“Are We Alone?”, “How did we get here?”, ” Is complex life common or rare in the universe?” People have been asking ( and arguing about ) these types of things for a long time. That debate is going to come to an end soon. The definitive answer to ” The Great Question” is not far off. Advocates for  Darwinian naturalism vociferously assert their guess that complex life arose as a result of purely natural ( albeit unexplained and unspecified ) processes, and  that the information processor of DNA self-assembled without the aid of design. They claim further, that tens of billions of lines of complex, specified information wrote itself on that information processor to bring about the coded program that specifies and creates life as we know it today. By their logic then,  all that is required for life to arise is the right environmental conditions, and time. If they are right, then the universe is literally teeming with life- both simple and complex.

 We’ll test that hypothesis one day soon. Intelligent Design advocates, on the other hand,  are somewhat skeptical of this claimed naturalistic process, and would like to actually SEE the unguessed and unknown means by which spontaneous abiogenesis allegedly occurred, and would like very much for darwinists to produce and SPECIFY the exact nature of the highly implausible path that RM+NS supposedly took to self-assemble human complexity from a pile of rocks. ID’ers argue against naturalistic explanations for life on several grounds. The Lack of evidence and specification for the DETAILS of Darwinism’s alleged methodology being one. The total mystery of Abiogenesis being another. Irreducible Complexity is one objection. Universal probability bounds is another too.  Darwinists are long on bluster and assertions, but short on details and specifics. Intelligent design advocates make good, logical arguments, but neither can they point to a specific designer if one does exist, nor can they specify that designer’s location and intentions.

 The truth is that neither side can conclusively say how we got here, because nobody was around when it happened. Nobody has EVER seen, duplicated, or explained abiogenesis, nor has anybody ever specified an EXACT plausible, pathway by which RM+NS ( or any other process ) in this universe managed to create human biological complexity. Hell, we haven’t even completely DESCRIBED human biological complexity, never mind come up with a serious explanation for it’s origins. Talk of human origins, and of Life’s prevalence in the universe is speculation and inference now, but that’s not always going to be the case. The problem is that we have such a small frame of reference. We know of only ONE place in the universe where life exists, and we only have knowledge of only ONE place in the universe where life COULD exist… Earth. Trying to make sweeping generalizations about naturalistic processes we cannot explain, specify, or duplicate , all extrapolated from our measly data-set of one is not so much a case of science, but rather a case of faith.

The observable data that is going to answer  The Great Question, of  Life and of  Life’s Origins is near at hand. We are looking out into the universe now, and we shall see what we shall see. I suspect that a lot of arrogant know-it-alls are going to have to re-think their positions when we see what is actually out there. Space-born interferometric telescopes are going to directly image earth-size planetary bodies within the next 100 years, and we will be able to analyze the composition of atmospheric gases on many, many distant worlds using spectroscopy. If biological processes ARE  going forward on other planets throughout the galaxy, and throughout the universe, we will know it by the presence of gaseous ratios that exist ONLY through biological processes. If an alien civilization were to run a spectrographic analysis on our atmosphere from a billion light-years away, they would KNOW that life is here. It works two ways.  If there ARE other advanced life-forms and civilizations in our galaxy and in our universe, we will know it soon. If they do not exist, we will know that too.  Darwinism is either going to be spectacularly confirmed in the next 100 years, or it is going to be UTTERLY discredited by definitive and undeniable observation. In the next 1000 years, the human race will have a good idea of how common life of ANY complexity is in the universe, and we will have a likely answer to the question of “Are We Alone?”. We will either make First Contact, or we will look into Douglas Adam’s Infinite Perspective Vortex and know just what it truly means to be small.  I am not going to predict an answer to the question here. I did that to some extent in my first essay on this blog. But I do predict that the answer to The Great Question will be known. Whatever the answer is, it’s worth knowing. 

Here is a link to an article in the Boston Globe by Colin Nickerson, about the ENCODE project- which has thrown Darwinism and current theories of evolutionary biology back to “Square One”:

http://www.boston.com/news/globe/health_science/articles/2007/09/24/dna_unraveled/

Here is a link to the Blog of Dr. William Dembski, Arch-advocate for Intelligent Design:

http://www.uncommondescent.com

Human Possibility #5: Humanity will come to understand all of the fundamental particles and forces in the Universe, and that knowledge will allow us to reach many distant stars.

For those of you who know a little physics, ( I’m an amatuer at best ), you know about where we currently stand in terms of the standard model of particles and forces. We know a good bit about how three of the four fundamental forces that govern interactions between all known particles in the universe relate to one another; the Strong Nuclear Force, The Weak Nuclear Force, and Electromagnetism. We have also described and specified  the behaviors of particles associated with these forces.  The 4th fundamental force ( gravity) has been well described in Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, but has not been unified with the other three forces, and no particle has yet been discovered that is associated with it. In other words, we still lack a fundamental theory that encompasses one of the basic constituent forces that allows our universe to exist.

 The laws of Physics are the FINAL word on what is possible and what is NOT possible for mankind in EVERY field of endeavor. we can dream and hope and wish, just so long  as something has not been proven to violate the laws of physics. But once an idea DOES contradict these laws, well… that’s it. It’s not happening, at least not in this universe. If you believe in multi-verses, then more power to you…The Grand Unification Theory, when it  is successfully put forward, will give us a better idea of where we stand, and an idea of what we are working with in our universe in terms of what MAY be possible, and what is definitly NOT  possible. We are close to understanding those limits, but are not entirely there yet. Until we can identify the particles associated with gravity, and understand what they can and can’t do in interactions with other particles and forces, there are still some open questions. 

An unlikely character by the name of Garret Lisi ( known throughout the Internet as “The Surfer Dude” ), MAY have just come up with a valid Grand Unification Theory. By his own admission, it will either be spectacularly right, or spectacularly wrong. His simple yet elegant theory describes all forces and particles in the universe using something called the E8 geometric shape. It is the most complex structure ever described, and it MAY ( or may not ) be an accurate model of our universe. Even if Lisi’s model is incorrect, ( the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland may confirm or deny Lisi’s theory in the next few years by finding actual gravitons ), sooner or later, it looks like we WILL come to understand the fundamental nature of our universe. With that knowledge, we will be able to see what is physically possible.

 These matters bear heavily – indeed definitively- on our species’ prospects for survival, and the finite limits of how far we can go. For one thing, the sheer size of space is daunting. Just getting to our nearest neighbor- Alpha Centauri- is currently beyond our capabilities as a species. But even with conventional slower-than-light travel, we WILL get there someday though… probably. With slower-than-light travel, humanity MIGHT ( maybe ) even make it to  a couple thousand other stars that are within a few thousand light years of our birthplace. I give us a slim, but possible chance of achieving that. But as for the rest of the universe? The other 99.99999% of the universe that comprises untold billions of stars in our galaxy and contains many billions of OTHER galaxies with billions of their OWN stars? We won’t get to experience any of that without a very lucky break from the laws of physics.  A better understanding of gravity and quantum physics is what will tell the tale. Those of you who are Star Trek fans are more-or-less aware of the fact that warp-drive capability is what allowed captain Kirk and his posse to fly around the galaxy from star system to star system. If we are stuck permanently with slower-than-light travel, then that’s not ever going to become reality for us. Faster-than-light travel is the Holy Grail of Physics- and gaining that capability represents  the absolute best that humans could ever hope to achieve in this physical universe. Without that capability, we will go only so far, but no further.

So the question is… is faster-than-light travel possible? For an object traveling through normal, uncompressed space-time, it is NOT possible. But according to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, we KNOW that Space IS able to be warped and curved by gravity. Space-time curvature is what actually makes it possible for planets to orbit stars, and the FACT of space-time curvature has been confirmed by one of Einstein’s predictions- the gravitational bending of light- which astronomers observe every day. Since it IS possible to bend space itself, it IS theoretically possible to go faster than the speed of light- relatively speaking- by changing the actual distance that something has to go to get from one point to another.  Black  Holes represent a curvature of space-time so total that nothing – not even light- can escape once it has passed the event horizon, and all matter within it is compressed to a singularity. This is all accomplished gravitationally. The secret to warp-drive capability then lies in the ability to manipulate gravity and it’s ( presumed ) associated particles ( gravitons ) in such away as to amplify space-time compression ahead of a space-ship, and to  create space-time expansion  behind it. To do this without actually destroying the ship, would require the ability ( obviously ) to protect ones-self from the deleterious effects of said gravity using some kind of shielding or material opaque to gravity. In star trek jargon, this would be the “warp bubble”. Until graviton particles are discovered and described, we don’t know if such a thing is possible . The gravity source to power a warp-drive has to be powerful enough to warp space, but small enough  to be portable- which would seem to imply that we would need to gain mastery of a singularity.  Is all of this highly unlikely? Yup. It would be the most that we could ever hope to achieve, even if our species lasts for another million years and we write our names in glory on the concave of the heavens. But is it Impossible? Not yet. We don’t know enough to definitively say one way or the other. Further advances in quantum physics, and a better understanding of the particles associated with gravity will settle the matter. My prediction for faster than light travel? I’d have to say probably not. But we’ll see. 

There IS still one other possibility that may make interstellar travel routine and easy though- even if it’s only travel to a few thousand other stars within our realistic reach. THAT possibility will represent the most ridiculous thing that I will mention in this essay and I am prepared to be laughed at for suggesting it, so go ahead – yuck it up. But it’s actually more likely than warp-drive capability, and there appears to be  at least a plausible possibility that it will be achieved  . What I am referring to is teleportation- ie instantaneous quantum information-transfer using the principle of photon entanglement. Photon entanglement is a creepy, but very real phenomenon of nature in which two photons given off by the same atom can exist in two completely unrelated positions in space-time, but whose spin attributes are inexplicably linked no matter how far apart they are. In other words, information can be instantaneously imparted from one entangled photon to the other with absolutely NO regard for the distance involved.  Einstein referred to the phenomenon as “spukhafte fernwirkung”, which means spooky action at a distance. Using this information transfer technique, it IS possible to instanteously take the charachteristics of a particle or OBJECT that exists in one place, and  have those charachteristics instantaneously appear in ANY other place. Scientists have already transferred entire atoms using this technique ( they started out with single photons ). It works the same whether the particles are ten meters apart, or if one of them is located on earth and the other is in orbit around alpha centauri. When you think about it,  everything that we are can ultimately be broken down to information.  Everything that makes you PHYSICALLY what you are right now, can be informatically defined as matter- atoms- existing in a certain configuration relative to one another. That specification can be expressed mathematically and transmitted as information. It’s a fact. It all comes down to computer speed, scanning speed,  and information technology. Think of it as a 3D fax to anywhere with no busy signals. My prediction? It might take us 10,000 years to master the technology, but I see no law of physics that actually prohibits teleportation using quantum information and photon entanglement. I think it will actually happen someday, and THAT hopefully will be the wackiest prediction I will ever make.

Here is a link to a Fox News article about Garret Lisi:

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,311952,00.html

Here is a link to the download page for ” An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything” ( Lisi’s Theory ).  Reader beware- apparently the word “simple” has a different meaning to quantum physicists than the one that I am familiar with. :

http://arxiv.org/abs/0711.0770

Here is a link to a Scientific American article on photon entanglement and quantum information transfer:

http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=00014CBD-7633-1C76-9B81809EC588EF21&pageNumber=1&catID=4

At any rate, those are some of my hopes, my wishes, and my predictions for the future of Humanity. I have tried to be both optimistic and realistic. I guess at heart, I will always just be a Dreamer, but that’s OK if you ask me. Sometimes dreams come true, and you’ll never know what’s possible if you don’t have the faith and the hope to try.  Is humankind fated to blow itself to kingdom come, or can we look forward to a glorious future? It could go either way I suppose, but  I prefer Gene Rodenberry’s optimistic vision of the future, and who knows- It may happen.

If anybody out there on the Internet actually reads this entire thing, and your guesses and predictions differ from mine, I would love to hear your opinions on how it will all turn out for us as a species, and I would also like to hear the logic behind how you reached your conclusions.

The real reason I wrote this essay though, is because I wanted to leave a record of what myself, and people like me hope for from the future. With any luck, this entry will survive me, and maybe someday a young person in another place and time will get an idea or two, be inspired, and go out and do their part to make some of this stuff a reality.  If the Dreamers prevail over the Accepters someday, and our human destiny does turn out to be a glorious one, then maybe future “Internet archaeologists” will unearth these primitive digital scrawls and I will become known as the Nostradamus of the 21rst Century. Then again, if the Accepters wind up determining our fate, maybe those future “Internet archaeologists” will get a good laugh at my posthumous expense, and I will become known far and wide in posterity as “The Great Dumbass of 2008”. We’ll see.

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Space exploration is one of the things that I am most passionate about in this life. I guess that my interest in the subject began when I was in Kindergarten. I remember being 5 or 6 years old and spending a lot of time looking through a copy of National Geographic that my parents had, which featured pictures of the Apollo Moon Landings. That  magazine also came with a tear-out record that I played over and over again on our old vinyl record-player. The recording was of Mission-Control talking with the Apollo 11 crew as they made the first lunar landing. So, from a VERY young age, I could quote Neil Armstrong’s famous words… ” That’s one small step for Man, One Giant Leap for Mankind”. My interest in manned space exploration only grew from there, as I spent the next few years of my life watching the original Star-Trek episodes on our old black and white TV. Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Scotty and the whole gang would fly around the galaxy at Warp Factor Nine, having interesting adventures, “encountering new life and new civilizations”, meeting hot alien chicks, and going”boldly where no man had gone before!” Spock would calculate the crew’s curent odds of survival to the 8th decimal point, Scotty would save the Enterprise from a warp-core breach every week ( usually with about ten seconds left to spare ), and Dr. McCoy would say “Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor, not a fill-in-the-blank-with-your-occupation-of-choice…” Those were the good ol’ days… when not only were we taking our first bold steps as a species out into the “final frontier” in the REAL world, but space travel was also being semi-plausibly portrayed on TV shows like Star Trek as a fairly routine, and perfectly normal activity in the not-so-distant future. NOTHING seemed impossible in those days. For a young boy with a typical young boy’s infatuation with exploring new things, NASA’s Apollo program was  absolutely as exciting as could possibly be. I mean,  what an incredible concept… to actually fly up to the MOON and walk around up there! Alan Shepard even played GOLF up there! The Apollo 15,16 and 17 astronauts even brought a car with them and drove it around up on the moon! I just assumed- as did many of my generation- that the Apollo program was only the very BEGINNING of a “grand age” of space exploration that I was going to have the PRIVILEGE of  living in. I felt VERY fortunate to be born into such times, and I gazed ahead in the days of my youth, to a future brimming with limitless possibilities- mars landings, moon bases, warp-drive capability etc…etc…

Alas, dreams die hard sometimes. By the time I got my hands on  that issue of National Geographic, the Apollo program had already been canceled by the government as a waste of money that the public was already growing bored with. On December 14th, 1972, Gene Cernan ( commander of Apollo 17 ) climbed up the ladder of his LEM ( Lunar Excursion Module)  and headed back to earth.  Humans haven’t left Earth-orbit since. It’s now been 38 years since Neil Armstrong made his “one small step for man”, and for a generation of dreamers who really, really believed that mankind’s destiny lay in the heavens, the intervening decades have been a cruel disappointment. You see, for many of us, Apollo wasn’t just about going to the moon and beating the Russians- it was an expression of hope for all of humanity. It was a foreshadowing of human POSSIBILITIES- a glimpse at what our species COULD be and do! And those  old Star Trek episodes weren’t ( entirely ) about William Shatner’s hammy acting and the silly paper-mache sets- it was all part of an optimistic VISION of  a human future wherein we set aside our differences as a species, and reach out to the heavens to achieve what we are capable-of,  instead of blowing ourselves to kingdom come with weapons of mass destruction. The dreams, the hopes, and the best qualities of a whole generation were captured by the pioneering spirit of those times. The imagination of a nation, and of a world, was sparked and captivated by WHAT COULD BE!… THAT was the true spirit of Apollo, and THAT is what lives on in me, and a lot of other people out there who watch with dismay as NASA has devolved from being the bold, pioneering vangaurd of an entire generation’s aspirations,  into a sad, rudderless, bloated, bureaucratic monstrosity with low aspirations and even lower achievements.

In the 35 years since the final Apollo mission, the United States, Russia, ESA ( European Space Agency) , JAXA, and other would-be space-faring nations  have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on manned space-flight, and have almost NOTHING to show for it except a lot of pointless space shuttle missions to mere Earth orbit, and the on-going, decade-long assembly of an orbiting flop-house that doesn’t seem to have much purpose. In-orbit construction on the ISS began in 1998, and is expected to be completed in 2010. The life-expectancy of many of the station’s original station components expires sometime in 2016, at which point NASA will have to either have to invest tens of billions of dollars in refurbishing it, or de-orbit it and allow 14 years of work to burn up in the atmosphere. THIS is the the opus-magnus of NASA for the entire post-Apollo era? THIS, is the final result of our nation’s four-decade, hundred-billion dollar investment in manned space exploration? Don’t get me wrong… I don’t want to denigrate ALL of NASA’s achievements in space over the last 35 years- there HAVE been some good things accomplished. GPS and communications satellites come to mind. Rovers  have sent back  amazing HDTV-quality video of the surface of Mars, and many  un-manned deep-space probes have been sent flying all over the solar system in the years since Apollo, which have yielded amazing discoveries, sent back terabytes of valuable data, and vastly increased our knowledge of our  solar-system. Also, The Hubble Space Telescope was ( and still is ) the crown jewel of all our efforts in the field of un-manned space exploration. The pictures we got back from HST are probably the most mind-boggling images ever seen by human eyes. But while unmanned exploration has some great achievements to point to, the manned-exploration side of things has been a miserable, pathetic failure, and a great disappointment to our country and to the world, for a long time now. NASA’s two primary undertakings of the last 30 years have been the Space Shuttle, and the International Space Station. And neither one of these programs has even remotely come close to surpassing Apollo, in terms of historical significance or in terms of sparking public interest.

The bold pioneers- the “steely-eyed missile-men”- of the 60’s and 70’s were able to land men on the moon with archaic technology and a flight computer that had less computing power than your average modern wristwatch. NASA’s activities today focus on the Space Shuttle and the ISS. Near as I can tell, the Space Shuttle exists now for little other purpose than to give us a way to get to the ISS, and The ISS apparently exists for little other purpose than to give the shuttle someplace to go to. So we launch our insanely-overpriced shuttle missions up to Earth-orbit, putter around for a while in our insanely-overpriced, orbiting tin-can, and then fly home. What’s the point? I think it’s no wonder that so many people now think that Space Exploration is  just a colossal waste of time, and that the money could be better spent here on Earth. I disagree, as to that sweeping characterization, but I certainly can see where that attitude comes from, and I certainly don’t think that NASA has been good stewards of the national wealth it has been entrusted with. Certainly, there is nothing in what we are currently doing in the area of manned space exploration to capture the spirit and imagination of a new generation. Nothing bold. Nothing audacious. Nothing inspired. Nothing worthy of public interest and attention.  I think that a humorous article from one of my favorite on-line newspapers, ” The Onion”, accurately captures the essence of the frustration that so many people now have with NASA’s pointless and wasteful activities in space these days. For a good laugh please click here….

NASA ANNOUNCES PLAN TO LAUNCH $700 MILLION INTO SPACE:

http://www.theonion.com/content/node/47977

Sadly, the FUTURE that NASA, the bureaucrats, and the politicians have mapped-out for the next 30 years or so looks about as pointless and stupid as the LAST 30 years have been. The current plan du jour is to spend the next few years spending tens of billions of dollars finishing the ISS ( by which time it will be obsolete and in need of major refurbishment or abandonment ). THEN, we are to embark on a decade-long, zillion-dollar quest to RETURN TO THE MOON, and THEN to build insanely-expensive permanent bases there that will be regularly re-supplied and re-staffed with even MORE insanely-priced moon-shots. In other words, NASA’s grand vision is ( IF everything goes to plan) to put us, in the year 2018, right back where APOLLO 11 put us FIFTY YEARS  AGO. From there, the moon is supposed to act as a “stepping-stone” to Mars and ANOTHER multi-decade, multi-zillion dollar NASA extravaganza to get there.

Look, it’s time to face reality here- about NASA, and about the course that manned space exploration in general is currently on. We’ve lost our way. The original NASA was built on the shoulders of committed visionaries like Robert Goddard, Wernher Von Braun, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and Gene Kranz. It was an organization that was basically formed to give these dreamers,these explorers, these brave pioneers, a MEANS by which to give shape to their aspirations. The current NASA is a government bureaucracy staffed with government workers who function, aspire, plan, and behave as all government bureaucracies do- inefficiently, slowly, wastefully, and in plodding, drudgerous, safe,  un-inspired fashion. It’s a different culture now, with different attitudes, and different motivations. The CURRENT bunch is simply not cut from the same cloth as the original NASA guys, and I honestly believe now- when I look at NASA’s track record of uninspired mediocrity and waste over the past few decades, and when I look at their truly pathetic and unrealistic plans for the next few decades- that they are fundamentally incapable on a basic INSTITUTIONAL level, of achieving and implementing the next steps that humanity needs to take in the area of Human Space Exploration. If the optimistic vision of a human destiny in space- the kind of vision held by people like Gene Roddenberry, Carl Sagan, Robert Zubrin, and Buzz Aldrin-  is ever going to realistically come to pass, we are going to have to find another way to get there I think. We are going to need a new plan, new leadership, new goals, a new mission, a new paradigm, and a new business model.  I believe we should honor NASA for it’s past achievements, but when you consider the insane amounts of money that they have basically thrown down pointless rat-holes over the past few decades and their plans to throw even MORE money down the same rat-holes in the future, it is becoming increasingly clear that the whole concept of NASA- as it’s currently organized- is becoming a deteriorating scenario of diminishing returns on our national investment.

We need a totally new paradigm for human space exploration if we are ever going to achieve what we are capable-of,  as a nation, and as a species. That’s what it comes down-to. My thoughts on how we can realistically get to that place we are trying to get-to, will comprise the majority of the rest of this essay. 

 A couple of weeks ago, I went to go see “In the Shadow of the Moon”- a limited-release documentary comprised of interviews with the original Apollo astronauts, and never-before-seen footage from the NASA archives. If anybody else out there is feeling as depressed as I am about the current state of NASA, and about the state of manned space exploration on general, do yourself a favor and go see this movie. ( Don’t worry about finding a seat. Public interest in the space program is at a low ebb, so it was me and about six other people watching this movie on a Saturday night, in a city with a population of  about 1 million. ) The documentary was absolutely inspirational. I left the theatre with renewed  hope, renewed pride, and a renewed prayer for the return of  the TRUE spirit of Apollo to our nation. This movie reminded me of why I became interested in manned space exploration in the first place, and reminded me of the POSSIBILITIES that once inspired my generation.  We dont need to settle for this pathetic state of affairs! We can do more, and we deserve better! At this point, I think that things have gone so far astray at NASA that we should just start over with a clean sheet of paper.

First of all, lets start with some basic facts….We don’t even have a realistic vision of what we are even trying to accomplish in space, much less a serious plan for getting us there! Let’s start with a VISION, shall we? It seems to me that the critical component of ANY long-term sustainable human presence in space is that the people who are PAYING for it have to see a REASON to support it. There has to be something in what NASA is doing to inspire us- to capture our interest- and to let us live out our dreams through their bold and audacious plans. “Hello, McFly!”, we’ve already BEEN to the moon! A hundred-billion dollar, multi-decade “vision” to return to the moon is the stupidest thing I have ever heard of. There is no possibility of anybody caring about this moronic waste of time, much less any chance of anybody being inspired by it! And after that, why are we building  “bases” there? Bases that are supposed to be continually staffed via endless, insanely-expensive missions like we currently use to restaff and resupply the ISS?… What is the purpose? Why would we do such a thing? NASA should be smacked in the head repeatedly with a dead waterlogged rat for adopting this monstrosity as it’s mission-plan for the next couple of decades. And WHY is the moon a necessary “stepping-stone” to Mars any more than the ISS was a necessary “stepping stone”? That simple question is the 800lb gorilla sitting on the living room couch isn’t it? USA Today said as much in an  editorial, that captures very well, I think,  the absurdity of NASA’s future mission plans…

USA Today Editorial:NASA, The Costly Frontier:

http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2006-12-05-edit_x.htm

To quote briefly from the article, ” On a practical level, this project raises a number of obvious questions. Why go back to the moon? Why build what is partially rationalized  as a base camp for an eventual trip to Mars in the gravitational sink hole of a planetoid? Where’s the scientific reward that would justify such an expense? “. So at least I am not the only person asking impertinent questions  about NASA’s plans for the next few decades… Just a thought, but instead of going to the moon again, why don’t we at least consider trying to do something we HAVEN’T done before, that MIGHT  at least stand a chance of capturing the public’s interest for a change-ie. a manned mission to MARS. I’m willing to bet that when an astronaut climbs down a ladder, and says something brilliant as he ( or she ) puts their boot down onto the martian soil for the first time, that there will be a few people tuning in to see that! So… Step ONE of a much-needed complete re-vamp of NASA’s mission plans going forward would be to jettison this whole moon-base stupidity, and get on with something that has a realistic hope of rekindling public support and interest in the space program.

 Step TWO, is to have a realistic, straightforward plan of getting to the new goal. We cannot afford to waste hundreds of billions of dollars re-inventing the wheel, and we DON’T need a bunch of intermediate steps and exotic new technologies to get to Mars. The Apollo-era heavy-throw Saturn V booster had everything we needed to put the peices required to get to Mars into orbit. ( As an aside, I’ve seen one of these beasts in person. They’ve got one laying on it’s side in a hanger at Johnson Space Center in Houston. It’s open to public viewing, and I would rank it highly among the most amazing things I have ever seen in this life. Trust me, if you have a chance to go to Houston for any reason, make time to go see the Saturn V. ) It’s not that difficult… you throw up two or three components into orbit with a few Saturns, you do a quick orbital rendezvous ala’ Gemeni and Apollo, you light the damned rockets, and you head to Mars. We have NEVER needed the intermediate steps of moon bases, international space-stations, space-shuttles, orbital assembly of “Battlestar-Galactica”-type ships,  nuclear-thermal propulsion, and warp-drive capability to get to mars. All we need is some leadership! We could have been to Mars  20 years ago with Apollo era technology, and if we committed ourselves to it today, we could be there in 10 years or less. If we cast aside all of NASA’s useless, intermediate steps and pre-conditions,  and instead adopted something like Robert Zubrin’s “Mars Direct” approach ( see Links at the end of this essay ), we could get there NOW, not 50 years from now!

 Let me tell you something that I have learned in the corporate world from real-life experience- a commonly used strategy to avoid doing something hard that really does need to be done, is to commission a bunch of “studies” of the problem. That alone can take years. THEN, you make sure that your “studies”‘ have conclusions that recommend a bunch of pre-conditions and intermediate steps  that would have to be to be fulfilled prior to actually addressing the primary task.Then you make the process of fulfilling the study’s recommendations for intermediate steps, so time-consuming and onerous, that the hoped-to-be-avoided course of action can never actually come about- at least not during a manager’s time there, and THAT’S what really matters.  I have PERSONALLY witnessed this variety of corporate-management-kung-fu in action. I’ll give you a real-life example… At my own company, we own many buildings. We have a problem with leaking flashing, and a multitude of “gaps” in many of our building’s exterior surfaces ( some of them so wide you can stick your whole hand in there ). There are gaps between the siding, the stucco and the wood- which allows rain and snow to just run freely into the walls and to cause widespread mold and drywall damage. The straightforward solution would be to get a bunch of guys with caulking guns to come out and seal the gaps- which I once “boldly” suggested in a memo. But my company has managed to largely  ignore the problem and avoid spending the money, by insisting instead,  that I generate a spread-sheet first, which LISTS each and every crack AND correlates those cracks to SPECIFIC areas of interior water-damage. There are literally thousands of cracks, and many, many hundreds of instances of interior water damage. If I did nothing else but work on crack-detail spreadsheets for the next three years ( I have no time for it whatsoever ) , I MIGHT be able to satisfy the pre-conditions for taking actual steps to solve the problem. But they know that I don’t have the time, and so the can gets kicked on down the road for ANOTHER few years,  ( or at least until the million-dollar toxic-mold lawsuits start flying). NASA is doing EXACTLY the same thing. They don’t want to undertake anything bold, risky, dangerous, or uncertain. What government bureaucrat DOES want to be responsible for something with a significant potential for catastrophic failure? So instead, they commission a bunch of studies and reports which predictably conclude that before we do anything crazy ( like doing something we haven’t done before ), we should FIRST finish the ISS, repeat the entire Apollo program, build a bunch of moon bases, develop nuclear thermal propulsion etc. , etc… NASA has now set so many pre-conditions and intermediate steps that have to occur before we leave orbit and head for Mars, that it will take many decades, and trillions of dollars before that day ever arrives- if it ever does arrive . By THAT time, the current crop of NASA managers will be safely retired on their government pensions. And that’s all that really matters here. NASA is also well aware of the budgetary crisis our nation faces in next few decades. The chickens of all of our multi-generational, unfunded , ponzi-scheme entitlement programs are going to be coming home to roost when the baby-boomers retire soon. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Prescription Drug Benefit ( not to mention interest on the growing national debt, and the cost of rapidly-escalating military commitments around the world ) are going to basically bankrupt the next generation of Americans. There is a realistic limit to what NASA can expect funding-wise in the years to come, and they know that the money is going to run out LONG before all of their intermediate pre-conditions for a Mars Mission are met. They know that they will get a lot of totally-wasted funding in the meantime to keep everybody on the gravy-train, but at least under their plan, they will get that funding without ever having to realistically deliver anything resembling a mission to Mars. That’s the sad and honest truth folks. So that’s what I think of Nasa’s “vision” and of their so-called “plans” for the next several decades. I think it’s a complete crock of bullshit.

So what’s the alternative? Well, as I have already suggested, Step ONE would be to get a realistic vision, and Step Two would be to get a realistic road-map to get there. The best that I could hope for for NASA, would be that somebody sensible becomes president and simply kicks the 800lb gorilla off the living room couch and says- ” Look, this isn’t happening. You guys go back to the drawing-board, and come back with a ten-year-plan to get us to Mars that doesn’t involve moon bases. ” Furthermore,  rather than investing another fifty-billion bucks on the ISS before we de-orbit it into the atmosphere, why not save the money and time and de-orbit the damned thing now? Instead of pursuing this folly to it’s ultimate pointless and wasteful conclusion, why don’t we stop throwing good money after bad, and call it a day shall we? And while we’re at it, let’s save ANOTHER twenty-billion bucks by not waiting until 2010 to retire the shuttle fleet. If I were president, I’d hand the keys to the ISS to Russia today and say “good luck comrade”. They would probably turn a profit on the thing by selling tickets to space-tourists. They need the money, so I say God Bless em’. I’d approve one more shuttle mission to service Hubble, and then I would send the shuttles to the Smithsonian.

The shuttle was supposed to be a cheap, safe, reliable, re-usable system capable of  quick-turnaround times and easy, routine,weekly, launches to and from Earth orbit that would radically lower the cost per-pound of mass-to-orbit. It wasn’t ANY of those things. It was a lemon from the start, and a totally bad idea from the get-go. ( Anytime you spend 50 billion bucks on a peice of equipment and you have to use the phrase ” the tiles fell off”, you pretty much know youv’e got problems.) We’ve wasted the time and treasure of an entire generation puttering around in earth-orbit, and the sooner we put this sad era behind us, the better. I admit, I DO like the next-generation CEV ( Crew Exploration Vehicle ) AKA “Orion”, and the “Ares” heavy-throw Saturn-type booster that NASA is developing as a successor to the shuttle system, but I would change two things. I would immediately divert all  ISS and Shuttle funding to a crash -program to get these new systems operational pronto. I would also insist on developing  Orion and Ares within the architecture of a near-term, Mars-focused mission plan. No moon bases!

We also need to reform  NASA on an institutional level, and give that reformed agency a bigger budget- a budget commensurate with a country that has a GDP of 13 Trillion dollars. Truth be told, I think that the government’s investment in Space Exploration should be quadrupled. As a percentage of GDP, the money IS there, and we could easily come up with the funds, given the VAST size of the federal budget, with even MINUSCULE cuts in the rate of entitlement spending growth , and by curtailing earmarks and blatant pork-barrel waste ( bridges to nowhere and woodstock museums ).  HOWEVER, along with that funding increase, NASA DOES need to be re-focused, and re-organized. Also, we need to introduce some new paradigms into aspects of the system to better utilize the power of market-driven competition to drive progress, spur innovation, and to encourage the flow of private capital into the area of space exploration. Also, we need to invest in new launch technology in the same way that the government once invested in the railroads to open up the rest of the continent to commerce. I will detail some of my specific proposals in these areas below…

 If it were up to me, I would divide the new up-sized NASA budget 4 ways. One Quarter of the new quadrupled budget ( the equivalent of  the entire current budget ) would be focused solely on Orion, Ares, and on a ten-year plan for a manned mission to Mars.  Un-manned science missions would also get a full quarter of the new budget money for probes, orbiters, and un-manned landers- with a large part of that budget focusing on finding suitable landing sites on Mars with frozen sub-surface water ice ( which would open the way for long-term colonization ), and on Robert Zubrin’s in-situ fuel production lander idea. I would green-light a major robotic mission to Europa ( currently canceled ), because it’s oceans probably have the best chance of harboring life of any place in our solar system outside of Earth.  I would absolutely continue to fund ( and upgrade ) from this money,  NASA’s  fine array of space-born astronomical observatories- Chandra, Spitzer, and  Hubble, as well as the soon-to-be-launched James Webb Space Telescope. I would also also make SIM and TPF ( Space Interferometer Mission and Terrestrial Planet Finder ) long-term priorities for the “Science Directorate” of NASA. The unmanned exploration sector within NASA has EARNED the right to be stewards of our hard-earned tax- dollars. Another quarter of Nasa’s new super-budget would go to the development of a totally new launch system, and I would administer that part of the budget in a totally new way.

The new “launch system” that I am referring to, is called “The Space Elevator”. It has the potential to change the fundamental paradigm of space exploration to such an extent that it may wind up being more historically significant to our species than even the Apollo program was. I really do believe that it deserves funding equivalent to the entire current NASA budget. The fact of the matter is that there is only so far we are going to go as a species with space-faring exploration and colonization with conventional chemical rockets. The cost of getting people and material into orbit on a per-pound basis by conventional means is a PERMANENT limiting factor to what is possible for mankind if another cheaper method is not found. People have needs here on earth, and governments have many responsibilities to their peoples. Health-care, the military, retirement, roads, schools etc…., etc… There is only so much money that will EVER be able to be allocated to the space program. The fact of the matter, is that the BULK  of what is currently spent on space, is being wasted on propelling minuscule amounts of mass into orbit atop millions of gallons of propellant in insanely-expensive chemical rockets. Chemical rockets are an economic dead-end for space-exploration in the long-term. They have enabled us to take our first steps out into the great unknown, but they won’t allow us to take human presence in space to the next level for reasons of cost.  Not only are chemical rockets cost-prohibitive for non-profit organizations like NASA, but they are even MORE prohibitive to space-based, for-profit business ventures like space-tourism. Since we must assume that the amount of money that governments can spend on space exploration will ALWAYS be limited as a percentage of budget, the ONLY possibility for a significant expansion of human presence in space is if the cost of launching mass-to-orbit is radically reduced. In this way, it can it become profitable for private industry to drive the next phase of  human expansion into space. To make an analogy to another time in our history, the great expansion of the railroads that connected the east coast to the west coast, and the government’s investment IN those railroads, were only made possible by the fact that economic opportunities awaited at the end of the line. What SUSTAINED that rail infrastructure  ( and later built the interstate highway system as well ) was the economic activity that UTILIZED the road and rail grid. The government has a vested interest now in developing a better mass-to-orbit system that will radically lower launch-costs and make it possible for profitable space tourism to grow and thrive. The impetus of capitalism,of market-driven competition,of private investment,and of consumer demand  can bring to bear a  VASTLY greater power and wealth upon the area of human space exploration than government spending will EVER be able to in the long-term. But there has to be something IN space that motivates people to want to go there, and there has to be a much cheaper and potentially profitable way for private companies to meet that consumer need. The primary reason for average people to ever want to go into space is to see the view. Plain and simple.There is no other compelling reason for most people to need, or want to go there, or for private industry to find a way to send them there. The primary economic engine, therefore,  that will expand human presence in space will be tourism, and the lynch-pin that space tourism hangs upon is the development of a much cheaper mass-to-orbit system. That system is the Space Elevator, and quite frankly, I think that the development of that system should probably be NASA’s PRIMARY focus. It should be AT LEAST equal in terms of funding and in terms of priority, with every other thing that NASA does.

 For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Space Elevator concept, I will give a brief description of what it entails, and a few links to more information. Basically, the idea of the space elevator can be likened to tying a ten pound weight to the end of a rope and swinging it in a circle. The centrifugal force of  a weight attached to a spinning body ( in this case the earth itself ), holds the tether upright and rigidly in position between the weight and the spinning body. The critical component that was lacking in such a scheme, until fairly recently , was a material strong enough to bear the weight and stress loads required to permanently connect an orbiting object with the surface of the Earth. That structural material exists now. The strength-to -weight ratio of carbon nanotubes is sufficient to make a permanent space elevator an actual reality. From the standpoint of an observer on Earth, the space elevator would appear to be a thin, stationary, black ribbon stretching all the way from the ground to outer space. Of course, it would only appear to be stationary, as in reality, the earth would be spinning at many miles per second, as would be the elevator and the structure tied to it’s end.It’s just that it would seem stationary because we are also spinning at the same speed relative to it. A mechanical climber simply rides up and down the “elevator”, with none of the ridiculous costs and infrastructure associated with chemical rockets. Mass-to-orbit costs stand to be reduced a hundred-fold, and the first job of the first space elevator will be to lift up spools of carbon nanotube fibers containing the initial filaments of a hundred MORE space elevators. Many of these elevators will be financed by new businesses, and by a massive influx of venture capital that will be attracted to the new frontier by the now- potentially profitable space tourism industry. Indeed, ALL of the current industries that utilize chemical rockets for mass-to-orbit would find their costs greatly reduced, and capital /investment would flow to these sectors too. Cheaper mass-to-orbit also opens up possibilities for entirely new industries and technologies such as beamed power generation. The space elevator is the key that unlocks the gateway to the final frontier, and also to actual COLONIZATION of Mars, as opposed to just a few “plant-the-flag-and-look-around”  missions.

Discover Magazine Article: “Going Up”

http://discovermagazine.com/2004/jul/cover

Wikipedia: The Space Elevator:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_elevator

Also, I would spend Nasa’s  entire Space Elevator budget under a new paradigm. It wouldn’t be an in-house operation at all. It would be along the lines of what DARPA ( Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration ) did with their open-to-the-public Autonomous Vehicle competition- only on a much grander scale. I would dole out the money as grants to approximately five companies that wanted to have a go at it, and have a 50 billion dollar “X-Prize” for the company that gets the first space elevator up and running. Let’s face it,  government bureaucracy is the method of absolute last resort if you want innovation, efficiency, speed, and excellence. On the other hand, try dangling that kind of money  in front of some lean, mean, greedy, hungry, profit-driven corporations, and you’ll have the elevator up before you can say Jack-and-the-Beanstalk.

  

My proposal for the final quarter of Nasa’s new budget would be to spend it on addressing another fundamental problem that is holding back human space exploration . I am talking about trying to do something unheard-of, and almost unimaginable, to recapture the daring spirit of Apollo again. We need to fire the imagination of a NEW generation! We need to capture the hopes, and the dreams of all the hard-working people out there whose tax dollars makes all of this stuff POSSIBLE! We need a bold, visionary goal- an audacious undertaking that is WORTHY of the attention, of the interest, and of the un-flagging support of the PEOPLE. We need a goal whose noble and lofty vision brings a tear to people’s eyes, and makes school-children lay awake at night in their beds thinking ” is such a thing REALLY possible?!”It should be like it USED to be, back in the early days of the Apollo program.  I have an idea of what that goal could be. I think I know what undertaking would be truly worthy of NASA, and worthy of the yearning for brave  EXPLORATION that lies at the core of what is BEST in the human spirit…

 I propose that an American president should lay before the American people the idea of building a vast space-born optical interferometer. The purpose of which would be to answer two fundamental questions-

 1.) Are we alone in the universe? …Does Life exist out there, and if so, is it simple or complex? Rare or prevalent?

2.) Is there another Earth? Are there many?… And are any of them close enough for us to consider what would be the greatest journey of all- going there. ( Via either a multi-generational colony-ship, or via a probe with genetic seed-material that could start a new branch of the tree of life in the universe.)

 For those of you unfamiliar with the possibilities and potential capabilities of space-interferometers, I will briefly outline the idea, and provide a couple of links to more information. Basically, the idea of putting telescopes in space is based on the fact that they are above the atmosphere- which obstructs and distorts our view of distant heavenly bodies from Earth. The Hubble Space Telescope ( launched in 1997 ) is one of the most amazing accomplishments in the history of mankind, and just so you don’t have to take my word for it, I’ll include a link to some of the images that Hubble has given us, and let you see for yourself. Honestly,  any words of mine would be totally unable to express the grandeur and majesty of what is out there anyways. Suffice it to say, that our view of the universe will never be the same. The Hubble deep field photographs boggle the mind. They are filled with millions and billions of tiny red, green , blue and pink smudges that fill up the HST’s entire view of the sky. Those tiny multi-colored pinwheels are galaxies. Each of them contains hundreds of billions of stars just like our own , and around those stars are circling billions – if not trillions- of planets. Some are inevitably going to be similar to own tiny blue marble that we call home. Statistically speaking, it’s a lead-pipe cinch that SOMEWHERE out there is a planet that is, for all intents and purposes, practically identical to Earth.  Now consider for a moment that Hubble only has a lense two meters-wide. The principle of interferometers ( in space in this case ) is that it is possible to create a “vitual lense” equivalent to the diameter of a CONSTELLATION of movable telescopes placed at great distances from one another. Someday, it will be possible to create a telescope in space with the equivalent of a lense that is TENS OF THOUSANDS OF KILOMETERS wide. Think what we have seen with Hubble’s tiny lense, and then imagine what we would see with an interferometer of that size! We will look down on distant worlds- maybe even in other galaxies- with the same resolution that CIA spy-satelites currently use to read a car’s licence plate from space. We won’t need SETI to be randomly looking for patterns in interstellar radio signals anymore. We will simply look down on distant worlds in VISIBLE light wavelengths , and SEE if there are any designed structures indicative of complex life. We will also use gas spectroscopy to determine the exact composition of those planet’s atmospheres, and see whether or not there are un-natural combinations of gases which are incapable of forming apart from the presence of life and biological processes going forward. If life is out there, we will know. If we are alone, we will know that too. Darwinists claim that abiogenesis, the origin and evolution of species, the spontaneous creation of self-replicating information processors like DNA , the code that is written on that information processor, and the irreducible biological complexity that code translates into, are all NATURAL processes that merely  require time and the right environmental conditions to occur. Intelligent Design advocates dispute that unproven claim and point to the problems of irreducible complexity, and of universal probability bounds in a finite universe, as proof that Design had a hand in creating complex, specified genetic information and interwoven, interdependent biological structures and processes that would never have come about by the “small, ,sucessive steps” required of Random Mutation and Natural Selection. The fact of the matter though, is that advocates for BOTH Answers to the “Big Question” can only point to a data-set of one. We currently only know of ONE place in the entire universe where life exists, and nobody has ever specifically explained, demonstrated, or duplicated the process by which that life came to be. If Darwinism is correct, then these natural processes must go forth on a trillion other worlds, and CERTAINLY the universe must be teeming with all manner of life- both simple and complex. Space interferometry will tell us if that is so or not. Objectively speaking, so far, SETI has laid a big fat goose egg, and the silence out there is deafening. Observational data so far has NOT supported that notion of complex life existing outside of this planet. Certainly SETI isn’t tuning into the bar-scene from Star Wars like it probably should be if Darwinism and purely naturalistic forces are solely capable of explaining life independent of design. But we’ll never really know the answer to the question of Life until we get out there and look for it. Personally, I think that the Fermi Paradox deserves to be resolved, and I want very much for us to actually get up there and SEE the truth.  The space interferometer will show us that truth, and I believe I can HANDLE the truth- whatever it turns out to be. The Space Interferometer is a worthy goal – for our species and for our nation, and it is a perfect mission for NASA, as it it has no possibility of ever turning a profit. It’s a pure-scientific mission of exploration and discovery.

Wikipedia: NASA’s Space Interferometry Mission ( SIM )

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Interferometry_Mission

NASA’s Long-Term Terrestrial Planet-Finder Plans:

http://origins.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/missions.html#pi

Hubble Images:

http://hubblesite.org/gallery/album

Wikipedia: The Hubble Space Telescope:

Http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubble_Space_Telescope

 My first essay on this blog adressed the potential impact that space interferometry will ultimately have on the question of life’s presence and prevolance in the universe. Personally, I think that data from the space interferometer will ultimately  prove to be definitive on the matter. Here is a link to that essay. The ensuing comment-fest following that essay wound up being a spirited and informative debate on the whole Evolution versus Intelligent Design controversy. The link is included here for those interested in the subject, as well as a link to Dr. William Dembski’s Intelligent Design Weblog…

Evolution Versus Intelligent Design:

https://tyharris.wordpress.com/2007/03/27/evolution-versus-intelligent-design-astronomy-may-soon-settle-the-matter-once-and-for-all/

Dr. William Dembski’s Blog:

http://www.uncommondescent.com

 I want to thank everybody out there reading this, for taking the time to consider my opinions and ideas. I realize that I tend to run a bit long, and that I am paragraphically challenged. I dont claim to know everything, or have all the answers, but I am pretty sure that the space program is currently not on the right track, and I hope I have thrown some ideas and alternatives on the table that are worthy of consideration by those interested in the matter. I do think that our long-term survival  depends on us becoming a space-faring species. Remember, we have all of our eggs in one basket here. We are a teensy-weensy carbon-based life-form, with a very small foothold, on a very tiny blue speck of dirt and water, in a VERY large, cold, and un-caring universe. There have already been several ELE’s ( Extinction Level Events ) in our planet’s history, and statistically speaking, we are almost due for another one.  Right now, even as we speak, there probably IS a rock flying though space at millions of miles per hour that the un-ending graviational waltz of heavenly bodies will eventually send our way – with potentially fatal consequences. That could be a thousand years from now, a million years from now, or tomorrow, but it’s probably coming. And perhaps the even greater threat is our own self-threatening tendencies as a species- our warlike tendencies, our hatreds, our inability to get along with one another. Combine those tendencies with advances in biotechnology and the potential production of bio-agents, super-viruses, and biological weapons of mass-destuction, and  you have a human future that is NOT a sure-thing. If it turns out that  we really ARE the only sentient beings in the universe, and anything ever DID happen to wipe us out as a species on this small planet orbiting a tiny yellow star, well… then that’s the proverbial ballgame isnt it? It’s something to think about….It probably IS worth establishing another branch of the human family tree elsewhere- just in case. At any rate, we don’t really seem to be currently on-track to achieve any kind of Human Destiny out there in the stars. I hope that changes, and soon. While my faith in a Human Destiny in space has not died or been shaken by the recent stagnation of the Space Program , my faith in the current caretakers OF that dream HAS died. I think it’s time to do as Sammy Hagar once said, and “Dream another Dream… this Dream is over.”

Suggested Links:

The definitive book on the current state of affairs at NASA… Lost in Space: The Fall of NASA and the Dream of a New Space Age by Greg Klerkx: 

http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Space-Fall-NASA-Dream/dp/0375421505

Ward and Brownlee’s Rare Earth Hypothesis / the Fermi Paradox:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rare_Earth_hypothesis

Books by Micheal Behe, ( arch-advocate for Intelligent Design and Irreducible Complexity):

http://www.amazon.com/Edge-Evolution-Search-Limits-Darwinism/dp/0743296206

http://www.amazon.com/Darwins-Black-Box-Biochemical-Challenge/dp/0743290313

Robert Zubrin: Author and arch-advocate of “Mars-Direct” plan:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Case_for_Mars

Carl Sagan’s vision of a Human Destiny in space:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pale_Blue_Dot:_A_Vision_of_the_Human_Future_in_Space#Book_summary

The Encode Project… More bad news for Darwinism, and more evidence in support of Irreducible Complexity: “The picture that’s emerging of how living cells actually operate and evolve is so immensely more complicated than anyone imagined, it’s almost depressing”….”illness, health, and evolutionary change appear to be the work of an almost fantastical coordination between genes and swaths of DNA previously written off as junk”:

http://www.boston.com/news/globe/health_science/articles/2007/09/24/dna_unraveled/

The Apollo Program:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_program

Orion and Ares, the sucessors to the Space Shutle:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orion_%28spacecraft%29

Shadow of the Moon movie:

http://www.intheshadowofthemoon.com

Nasa Budget:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_Budget

The International Space Station:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISS

The Space Shuttle:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_shuttle

“Men From Earth”, my favorite first-hand account of the true-life epic adventure that was the Apollo program. Written by my favorite astronaut, Buzz Aldrin:

http://www.buzzaldrin.com/merchandise/books/index.html

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