Wednesday, October 14

The Other Side

I'm nothing if not impartial....try not to snicker.

Okay, okay, so I am very set in my ways. Some might say stubborn, I blame genetics for that. The truth is, I am often easily swayed particularly when someone I respect flips the coin on me. Case in point: NASA's missile at the moon. I'd like to point out that I never actually said we shouldn't do it (although that is what I felt), I only presented alternate forms of spending. My brother, Ben, and sister, Queen Cha-Cha of the Legos, both had strong opinions about that particular post. I didn't go into that post lightly, although some of my choices for the 75 million dollars might have made it seem so. My sister has worked for NASA in the past - she may still be working for them, if she told me she'd have to kill me or at least cut out my tongue. (Not literally, we just like to joke about it because she's contracted by the Air Force to do super cool stuff we don't understand and she can't really talk much about.)

After the post went up, I received a highly informative email from my sister telling me why she felt firing missiles at the moon is a good thing. And I'm inclined to agree with most of her points. Here is some of what she had to say:

One of your primary points seems to be why are we doing this "now". This is a red herring argument - the only costs of the $79M being expended now are for the manpower to monitor the mission and analyze the results. I would even argue that the cost of the extra PR support that the buzz going on now is part of the normal NASA budget, so that small delta is neither applicable or included in the figure. In other words probably around $70M of these costs were incurred more than 2 years ago. Nobody just thought up this idea, created the design, built the satellites and rocket, and had them ready for launch this year - these things take 7-10 years to accomplish (and were discussed extensively for years and decades before the mission officially gets started). It also is a waste to simply stop so close to the end, just because bankers lost their jobs last year.

The important part of your question (IMO) is why do we do this, or any, space exploration mission? Yes, a fundamental question is the water content on the crust of the moon. I've no doubt that there are many other secondary questions also being asked including the elemental content of the other particles kicked up, how deep the impact is, what the impact looks like, and so forth to understand better the geology in general of the moon. One application of this is having a lunar base inhabited by humans, but that is not the only one. We could have remote bases (I'll come back to bases). We can gain better insight into not only our planet, but other planets out there based on the geology of the moon. Our science is based on observations an measurements and extrapolated way out to meet what we think we expect. We can be and often are wrong in how we extrapolate either because we have a personal agenda (think global warming in general), or simply because we have never considered other options outside our experiences/limited knowledge (think of how people considered space as full of "ether" as opposed to a vacuum until the 1950s, because nobody had been there, and even now how the concept of "vacuum" continues to be refined as not simply the absolute absence of matter/energy, but some different mixes; or the seemingly "crazy" behavior of Newtonian physics like observing helium as it approaches absolute zero). We have to seek out data and answers and behavior outside our "normal" to begin to better understand things we never noticed before or took for granted. Perhaps if we better understand the moon geology we can begin to better understand how different rock formations are made and weathered, or how they translate motion to predict and perhaps someday prevent/mitigate earthquakes. Perhaps we will see new crystal structures and elemental combinations that simply cannot exist here on earth or in earth orbit because of the unique gravitational and radiation effects on the moon. What if based on the observations and methods used people invent new ways to sense and monitor the surface and subsurface of the moon without actually going there and placing sensors and transmitters in locations of interest. If we could dream up that eventually dad could use it here on earth to monitor his dams without telling people to go out an install and maintain a bunch of hardware. Many more things I have not ever dreamed of are possible...

Why lunar bases (manned or unmanned), my first question is why not? Wouldn't it be cool to go there, to see and experience a different type of environment and beauty, and observe earth from a different perspective? What is wrong with doing things for pure enjoyment as long as it is not contrary to the commandments? You don't need to go to the crest, you could save that $$ to pay bills, save for college, or give to somebody else in need, but you are not prohibited from enjoying the earth, nature, and beauty, as well as just enjoying life unless it becomes an obsession or causes you to neglect other responsibilities (i.e. within the commandments). If you want to argue that the moon is too far away, and as such is a waste of time to attempt to go to just for enjoyment, perhaps, and I'm not arguing that we need to do so while sacrificing other priorities, but at the same time it is unfair to take that away as a part of the dream/inspiration/enjoyment. I also think that the purpose of lunar bases is not enjoyment/leisure/pleasure alone. Again there are some very unique, and potentially very beneficial benefits of being able to operate on the moon in a permanent basis - which implies the need for water (but not only water!). Imagine the physics and engineering research we could do in the unique gravity of the moon. We already know and have demonstrated in a number of orbital missions that we can create unique materials, medicines, and plants in a microgravity environment. Currently it is too expensive to make a lot of progress in this arena, and definitely there is no way to manufacture sufficient quantities of a new product, but perhaps if we invested in permanent facilities we could get there eventually. Who is to say that the one key element in producing the drug that will cure or prevent Alzheimer’s, or leukemia, or ADD or whatever is the removal of gravity as an influence during the manufacturing, or perhaps getting far enough away from the earth to be outside or on the other side of its magnetic field, or using some naturally occurring compound found on the moon, an asteroid, or another planet. Way out in the future for such benefits, yes, but if we don't take those first steps we can never get there! I also referred to this above, but I think it is important to call out again, we need to have lofty goals to inspire us and challenge us. Sometimes in dreaming these bigger things we are more willing to try something different, consider alternatives, and hope for more.

So, what do YOU think?

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