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Is America a Space-Faring Society?


Martha Adams

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I believe us Terran humans need off-Terra settlements ASAP. And that the matter is urgent, owing to risks now well known, inherent in our simply existing here in this universe. We cannot afford to gamble all our past, all our future, all our hopes and all our race, entirely upon this one small world in the violent shooting gallery this universe is.

Further, beyond 'violent' see 'unknown.' Astronomy science workers find about 96% of this universe is something else than the stuff we are. It's called 'dark matter' and 'dark energy.' At this time, we can't even see this 'other stuff' (that's an active research topic). We don't know what it is nor in any detail, what it does. (It seems to be central to the evolution of our universe.)

Further, researchers have recently found a new form of our kind of matter, 'strange quark matter.' A large piece of this, passing thru Terra, would experience Terra as a trivial thin gas. (Us Terrans would think differently about the consequences.) What other such stuff is out there?

As for any unchangeability of our local solar system, don't count on it. Our Solar System, once viewed as peaceful and stable for all time, is now known to be dynamic and chaotic. Its apparent stability and permanence are not an artifact of reality, but of our astronomically short human lifespans.

Which raises the question, in view of the serious risks and costs of neglecting those off-Terra settlements, why aren't they out there now? The technologies to do it are well matured. Why haven't the American people and industries, obviously well up to the task, done it? Why is there no second generation of human Martians out there now? The answers to such questions seem to be entirely political and social. For a topical focus, let's ask,

                Is today's America a space-faring society?        ??

* * *

Faced with a very large surprise on December 7, 1941, America started slow but then responded appropriately. One can look back from today and see a strong national work character reflected in the architectures of the small equipment, the aircraft, the machineries and the ships that were built in response to that need. (And in the buildings. I recall my time spent in MIT's classic and beautifully utilitarian Building W20, where the MIT Radiation Lab worked in WW2.)

Technical literature from the 60's and into the 70's shows people were thinking about space travel and they had the means to do it to large effect. (The Saturn V heavy lift booster; and shortly later, NERVA.) ...And then, they didn't. How did this bad turn happen in our history? Who did that to America? For what return? Who got paid-off? Answers exist, and can be sorted out from a mare's nest of news, counter-news, and Statements. Some of the filters that sort out the good stuff from all the rest of it are ...here in this CEP topic area.

Today's machine -- and building -- architectures reflect a changed America. This new America is soft, obese, and slipping into a zero-sum economy. Censorship and vicious intellectual property possessiveness are growing social issues in America. Ignorance is glorified as "religious faith." Striking current examples of cultural downhill slide include the "HumVee" car, conspicuously made to order for the overweight Ugly American of the Vietman era. The function of those remarkable vehicles? It would be something about large egos, I think. See also, grandiose new buildings with giant useless interior hollow spaces. In a hotel room, I find up to a dozen pillows on a single too-large and too-soft bed. MIT's W20 was demolished to make space for a larger structure appropriate for the 'Li'l Abner' or 'Popeye' movie sets. And of course, everyone sees the grandest and most expensive failure of them all, the 'Space Shuttle,' displayed even today as something heroic.

* * *

Less abstract data are immediately available. To assess a group of people, look at them. Station yourself where you can watch many people for ten minutes or so. A modern mall; a busy city street. And ask yourself, how many of those people I see there, might become colonists? How many might make themselves a place, a career, a life, in space? Which ones might those be? And why would those who seem unfitted for it, why would that be?

Television is bad, too. Remind yourself that so many people watch this television passively with uncritical acceptance of what is dumped into them, that it offers a powerful instrument to control the entire national mood. And ask yourself, "If this reflects America as it is today, then how well is America fitted to face the hard challenges of space?"

Now look at recent copies of your newspaper. It is a thing made to appeal to a maximum number of mainstream people. Look also at business oriented newspapers such as the 'Wall Street Journal' or 'Investors Business Daily,' for their close topical focus on useful information and socially relevant issues. What kinds of people read such newspapers? Do your observations tell you something? About space, even?

Having looked at the resources I've pointed to, what do you come to? Working through the above and through other resources I find in my own life, my answer is,

           Is today's America a space-faring society?        No.

Which goes far enough to explain why, when you go outdoors at night and look up at that great starry sky, you know there's nobody there [1]. No people living there: no settlements. Even though, human settlements and commerce in space became doable fifty years ago.

* * *

Today's reality came upon America like a great black shroud. It illustrates how men of immense ill will try to wreck a basically good system. I look for greatly increased censorship (among other ills; in evidence as I write) if they succeed; for some very good doctoral theses in political science and mental health if things turn to the better.

Which hopeful option I'm taking no bets on. As I write in 2008 August, I see two voting choices for the upcoming Presidential election, and news stories say it's a (big surprise) "close race." I see no reality-based, character-determining difference between those two. (Let's face it, I'm not sure I see any character.) And does nobody read recent history and current news? How does this happen?

Good question, if it matters. Maybe America as a whole doesn't need to be a space-faring society. From what I've seen, America may have a growing space settlements community today that can do the job. If they focus on basics and on getting the job done. If Washington doesn't intrude to "fix" what's right.

------------------------------------------------- Notes, Resources, and Pointers:

[1] I'll feel no surprise at all if someone appears, jumping up and down, shouting, "ISS, ISS, there are people out there, ISS!!"

To which my reply is, if the ISS is a settlement with people living in it, are you and I both on the same planet? The ISS is, barely, a temporary and short-term base. It isn't even really out in space. Because, 1) it orbits within the fringe of Terra's atmosphere, so must be frequently reboosted else it falls down and burns; 2) it is no part of any commercial network nor ever will be; 3) it has no environment except space around it, so it cannot become self supporting; 4) its orbital inclination, so far from the System ecliptic, makes it useless as a way or refueling station for any traffic to Settlements which will necessarily be near the ecliptic.

Thus, apart from its being not quite on the Terran surface (to which its burned and broken fragments will return in a few years), the ISS in no way resembles an actual settlement nor even a longterm base for travel elsewhere.

My search on the string 'ISS orbital decay' finds a Russian site that says the ISS orbit decays "a few hundred meters" per 24 hrs. Engineers call this an "exponential decay" because as the ISS orbit decays, the ISS airspeed increases and air density increases. Thus the more the ISS orbit decays, the faster it gets worse yet. If the ISS is to serve for any usefully long period of time, its orbit must be moved up. Else, the ISS is short-lived and temporary. -- mha

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