Monday, July 20, 2009

Harsh Mistress? No, just a bitch.

When Sydney Brillo Duodenum was four years old, he sat on his parent’s bed in his jammies at the unbelievable 23rd hour of the day, nestled among his siblings and parents, watching some hullabaloo on the television involving men, rockets, space, history, odds, American Exceptionalism, technological progress, hope, the future, Commies, gravity, fear, guts, and the Moon. Of course, Sydney Brillo Duodenum doesn’t remember any of that. He does remember a particularly good repeat episode of Ultraman from earlier that day, the one concerning the holocaustic intentions of Memphilas, whom Ultraman battles to a draw, despite his use of the Slash Beam. In any event, Memphilas escapes but not before promising to return and destroy humanity another day. We’re still waiting, although one suspects his minions may be presently at work in the Nation’s capital preparing for his arrival.

And we’re still waiting to return to the Moon.

We were told that the Moon was the Holy Grail of exploration. The story went that man had explored every corner of the Earth, was in the process of laying it to waste and extracting its bounty, raping and exploiting the indigenous, and was scant decades from turning the Earth into either a near barren cinder (it was as if global thermonuclear war had occurred) or a vast flooded plain. Since it has been essentially too late for close to 50 years now to save Earth, we must flee it, or rather a select group of elites are going to have to flee it and take their chances Out There. If Man was to survive in this Universe, and by survive, we mean explore every corner of it, lay it to waste and extract its bounty, rape and exploit the indigenous alien populations, and leave behind a sting of cinders, then it was imperative that the bright gray barren cinder overhead should fall first.

None of that’s true, of course. The simple truth is that the Moon couldn’t be allowed to fall to the Commies and that’s the best and only reason we needed for having made it to the Moon first. Every dollar spent defeating Soviet Communism was worth it and if you think going to the Moon had nothing to do with stepping on Commie face, then you’re a moron. The Velcro and freeze dried beef stroganoff and wireless headsets and electronics and computers and pens you can write with upside down and metal blankets for Marathon runners are just the side benies compared to Kicking Commie Butt.

Now in this age of establishing naval gazing anniversaries divisible by ten are we directed to think long and hard about returning to the Moon. Frankly, SBD would rather do this on the 50th anniversary of the Moon Walk, but NASA and the Euros and the Japanese and the Chinese are all in the process of surveying, smashing stuff into, and observing the Moon. Just today NASA released pictures taken by a new surveyor of the Apollo 14 and 11 landing sites, complete with little helpful arrows pointing to tiny footprint tracks and scientific instruments still gleaming in the sun. The stills look like something taken off of a Youtube video. The image quality is horrendous and a conspiracist’s wet dream because apparently after 40 years and despite the ability of black ops NSA satellites to count Kim Jong-Il’s pubic hairs while he’s banging an enslaved French model meth addict, NASA hasn’t received enough funding to nail down the optics problem. If we can land a man on the Moon, then certainly we can develop a camera capable of taking a crystal clear image of where they bloody landed! Jeez, almighty.

It seems to SBD that there are two futures for space travel. One involves Man spending gargantuan sums of money and stretching the absolute limit of Man’s engineering genes to journey vast distances, which in just our solar system – 240,000 miles to the Moon; 35 million to 233 million miles to Mars, depending on orbit - are staggeringly short in relation to the incomprehensible distances separating our solar system from the next one, which houses, um, oh right . . . NOTHING OF USE TO US RIGHT NOW! Barring the introduction of alien technology, we can’t go much further than our own solar system. We are trapped in time and there’s not a damn thing to do about it. It was out of those cold hard facts that the multi-billion dollar science-fiction industry was born. Only in our imaginations can we travel afar. Since we are trapped in time, we should use our time wisely. We must have very good reasons for building a Moon base other than that we might find ice crystals which can be used to make water for the Moon base. Great, now that you can piss into a bowl of water on the Moon, filter it and then drink it, what else are you going to be doing there? Oh, right, examining Moon rocks to see if they can be mined and used as power source for the Moon base. Mmm, hmm. Yes, well, great. Then what? Well we’re going to see if we can find some Helium 3 that can be mined and then sent back to Earth to make fusion drives. What?!? Which leads us to our second option.

The second future of space travel involves Man spending less gargantuan sums to send robots and UAVs and super-Hubbles into space. Ironically, when Man begins to understand that by removing the human factors engineering from space travel, which is what makes it so damn expensive, it can design incredibly efficient and powerful explorers, all manipulated and controlled from Earth. One of Man’s evolutionary specialties is his ability to surmount his physical limitations. Again, being trapped in time, we should use computing, optics and the electromagnetic spectrum to leap across that limitation. If we are so technologically advanced, then we must recognize that the touchstone of human achievement does not have to literally involve touch. Assuming there are no alien relics or civilization artifacts to be looked at, there is nothing on the Moon that cannot be studied from Earth through the eyes of a robot. Same with Mars. Need Helium-3? Then build a kick-ass robot, launch it on 40 year old Saturn 5 technology platform, hire some kids who rock at Halo 3, put them in a room in Houston and let them drive that sucker all over the Moon digging holes, filling containers and remotely sending them back to low earth orbit for collection. There is no reason to put a man on the Moon to mine one ounce of dust. Men would just get in the way.

We’re promised a technological renaissance if we try to figure out how to establish permanent manned stations on nearby planetary bodies. Just like the effort that went into enabling the Apollo 11 walkabout, lots of life altering googaws and transformational this, that and the other things are promised as the big payoff. But we are in a far different place now technically speaking than we were on the eve of the Apollo project.

If we shoot for the Moon again, it will take place over the course of this century. So what does this century have in store for humanity. NRO’s John Derbyshire argues that there are “two futures for the human population of Earth over the next century or so: (1) a big die-off, or (2) geezerization.” If we are to pass into the caves because a superbug wiped out Earth’s civilizations and its centers of technological progress, then having spent hundreds and hundreds of billions – if not several trillion - to fabricate a Moon base will be a further statement of Man’s folly in the face of life’s brutal reality and history’s fairly regular culling of the human species. Better perhaps to take our present powers in computing and spend half the Moon base money on biomedical research and modeling to protect the species and the other half on space robotics and optics to tell us about what’s out there, that we can’t reach anyway. Forcing life onto the dead Moon and Mars is a human vanity project.

If we are instead facing geezerization – the non-replacement of populations because they have simply stopped reproducing adequately, e.g., Japan, parts of Europe – then those decreasing numbers of young people facing a huge responsibility for supporting multiple generations of geezers by being taxed up the ass may prefer to take their chances on the Moon and Mars, particularly if there are no western democracies worth emigrating to because freedom has been traded for a false certainty. This assumes a great leap forward in terms of off-planet engineering and fabrication of facilities capable of supporting, in high comfort (has to be – it’s the future, damnit), an increasing percentage of humans on Moon bases. Call it the Great Off Migration. They will leave behind the oldest and weakest, as well as the least technically competent. They will also doom the planet to a Dark Ages because if no one is there to defend the cultures and civilizations responsible for the Moon base and everything that went into its feasibility, then the Earth will fall into ruin. Ironically, hedging a bet that humanity has no Earth-based future by allowing its best and brightest and most free to abandon it and spending humungous sums focusing on establishing off-planet settlements, is what actually kills Earth. It’s more likely, though, that the Geezer World will prevent the spending of massive sums on Off Planet facilities. We have just this year spent close to $4 trillion, attempting to shore up a massive Ponzi scheme, and the Obamanauts plan to spend trillions more creating a Comfy Cozy Command Economy here on Earth.

A third consideration is that this is supposed to be China’s century, where it becomes a true technological, economic, military and social superpower. Maybe. In both the above scenarios, China is uaffected. They have enough people to find a core population resilience to super bugs and as Communist dictatorship, they won’t give damn about their old populations. They will have a huge number of males to deal with and there’s no better place for them than sending them to the Moon and Mars. According to highly questionable sources, China is planning to establish a permanent base on the Moon by 2030 and Mars by 2050. So we come full circle as to why this country needs to get back to the Moon as soon as possible, costs be damned, and in a permanent way: to get there before the Commies do.