With the final mission of the space shuttle program launching this Friday, July 8 with Atlantis’s scheduled lift off from Kennedy Space Center at 11:26 EDT, the debate begins on what is truly the next step for NASA and indeed our long term goals in space exploration on a planetary scale.
We have the grand and fantastic International Space Station, a Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle in development, unmanned spacecraft exploring every facet of our solar system while discovering new worlds beyond our own and an exciting commercial space program being led by SpaceX. But what NASA really needs is a budget set in stone, law and time that spells out exactly where the agency is going to go without interference from the whims of a new American President.
In my view, there really have been only three Presidents that understood the importance of setting long term goals for the agency – Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan.
When the Apollo program ended in the early 1970s, the next phase for NASA was well underway with the space shuttle when Nixon announced the program in 1972. Of course a few years earlier, it was Wernher von Braun who said at the time of the Apollo 11 launch “You give me 10 billion dollars and 10 years and I’ll have a man on Mars.”
Back then NASA had direction and long term goals. I’m not saying we don’t have that to some degree now, nor were the 1960s and 70s not fraught with budgetary issues, but NASA’s direction cannot be decided every four years. NASA needs, at least, a 10 year plan that cannot be changed once it’s approved by Congress.
Of course, what I have always found uniquely interesting in the history of the space program is its origins from the 1930s and The Third Reich. For it was that impoverished nation of Germany that conceived the Silbervogel – a winged aircraft that, to some degree, gave birth to what evolved into the United States space shuttle.
One has to truly wonder what inspired those scientists to create what they did given their resources at the time. Could there have been some outside influence perhaps? After all, we are talking about the invention of new applications in science and technology.
I, for one, believe in the ancient astronaut theories. In addition to the general concept of First World being built around it, there are simply too many unanswered questions regarding the abrupt jump in technology and the development of modern civilization. Something, someone or some action had to be responsible. While evidence certainly exists of some sort of interference in our society, an answer has not revealed itself.
Over at Space.com, Andrei Finkelstein, Russian astronomer and director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Applied Astronomy Institute in St. Petersburg, said “The genesis of life is as inevitable as the formation of atoms.”
We have discovered over 1,000 extrasolar planets and with the success of the Kepler space telescope are discovering more everyday. Now that we know where these otherworld planets are, we can turn SETI’s radio antennas to very specific areas of the cosmos to listen.
But with SETI’s budget slashed and its Allen Telescope Array offline, how can we listen to possible signals from alien civilizations if they are aimed at Earth? SETI needs just $200,000 to start listening again.
I leave you with this thought. Why have Earth’s space programs morphed into a thousand different directions with no clear goal? Haven’t we all noticed that we have these great tools in science and technology but no coherent global program to unite these platforms in a mission of revelation? I’m not talking Biblical Revelation here, but the revelation in knowledge and understanding.
The answers we seek are probably already here, but we need the organization to find them – or maybe to let them find us.
The Paris Air Show is known as the worlds largest and for good reason. Not only is it the oldest, but it acts as a grand exhibit hall to the latest and greatest in aviation. This year, however, the talk was all about the ZEHST – The Zero Emission Hyper Sonic Transport.
Since the Concorde last flew about eight years ago, the commercial aviation market has stayed subsonic. While it might be nice to fly in the luxury of the A380, it saddens me that there’s no longer a choice if you want to fly supersonic.
EADS, the parent company of Airbus, introduced the ZEHST concept. The idea is that it will be able to fly at Mach 4 with over 100 passengers at over 100,000 feet and make the journey from New York to Tokyo in only 2.5 hours.
There’s no question that the ambition is an impressive one. But will it ever fly? From what I’ve read, EADS claims it could have a working model by 2020 and be in the market by 2050. I wish we could go back to the heady days of Apollo and Concorde when we decided to just do something great. The science and engineering are there so to quote Nike “Just do it!”
As the article states, the United States government classifies lunar samples as national treasures and well it should. Aside from the fact that these objects are from another world, they were brought back to this one by man for all of mankind to study and learn from. I for one believe it should be illegal for anyone to try to sell lunar objects.
Finally, for those of you that don’t subscribe to my email newsletter or missed it on Facebook or Twitter, last month yours truly was cast in a short science fiction film called Approved by Durjaya. The film “centers around a dystopian society in which there are strict rules enforced by a higher authority and each citizen is assigned to a group that determines their job and subsequently their life.” I play one of the two protagonists. The film is scheduled for release in December.
In closing, I’m also running a promotion for First World: Covenant. For those of you that purchased the ebook, I am offering a FREE autographed cover of Covenant that would be suitable for framing. Details can be found in my latest email newsletter.
When I was visiting Space.com this morning, I was reminded of the opening paragraph of Covenant. One can only wonder if a civilization in the Camelopardalis constellation will intercept Voyager 1 when it reaches that part of space in the next forty thousand years. Even more interesting, where will our civilization on Earth be in that time?
I frankly don’t subscribe to the doomsday theorists on how and when life on this planet will end. As we all know, life on Earth has evolved, been destroyed and re-evolved again over millions of years. When we stop to think that dinosaurs walked this Earth tens of millions of years ago, I think we can safely say that life on this planet will always exist in some form.
But that does not mean that we shouldn’t take responsibility for our time in the here and now. Believe me if the dinosaurs could have deflected an asteroid to avoid their extinction they would have. Not only do we have the technology to deflect an asteroid, but the very real capability of taking care of this planet environmentally and its people.
Someday, I truly believe, that the Golden records on the Voyager spacecraft will be played by another space faring civilization. Imagine their excitement to realize that they are not alone in the universe.
But there was a time in contemporary memory where life on this planet nearly extinguished itself.
During the height of the Cold War the Soviet Union’s installation of nuclear weapons in Cuba nearly ignited Earth into a war that would have ended all wars. Thankfully, the Soviet Union blinked and we are still here today to talk about it. As one student said in the theatre, “My God, we almost killed ourselves.” That student was a high school senior. History doesn’t have to repeat itself in the present if we know the past.
It has recently been publicized that President Kennedy had a lot of misgivings about committing the United States to the herculean ambition of putting man on the Moon. Sure it was motivated by the Sputnik moment, sure it was motivated by beating the Soviet Union to the Moon, but Kennedy was a realist and knew full well that the United States had a lot of pressing domestic issues that needed to be addressed from both a humanitarian and cost point of view. But this is what made his presidency so legendary, to think in the here and now and the tomorrows yet to come.
“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” — President Kennedy before a Joint Session of Congress, 25 May 1961
Since First World: Covenant went live on Amazon, I’ve been rolling out the press release and tracking the results. I was very pleased to see a nice listing on Locus Online this morning. Locus is a fantastic science-fiction/fantasy magazine (both their print and online versions).
A few years ago when the short film version of First World had its premier in India at the First Ever National Discussion on Science Fiction, Locus mentioned the project back then. When developing something new (especially science fiction), every news item and mention helps to get the word out. On that note, I’m developing a page for The Ashton Times that links to some of the press the project has had since its inception. (Inception, now there was a great original science fiction movie!)
As for the space exploration front, I have to say I’m feeling a bit sad when I see these pictures of the space shuttle Endeavour at the International Space Station. We know there is only one more space shuttle mission left and then that program will be retired. But what a program it has been…over 30 years!
The advancements in science, space exploration and knowledge of our universe have increased on so many levels over the lifetime of the space shuttle program. I wish the Congress of the United States would stop complaining about the cost of the space program. It’s about the net result to human knowledge which always translates to more jobs in space and right here on Earth.
Thankfully, we now have a vibrant commercial space program in active operation with companies like Space X, Virgin Galactic and Bigelow Aerospace. Someday these new companies and government space agencies will unite together to form…dare I say it…a federation? But for now they each need to prove their respective place in space. Honestly, what I’m the most excited about is the Skylon spaceplane. Once you’ve seen the shuttle land…well…you get the point.
For those of you that have the Nook (or the Nook applications), First World: Covenant has been “processing” for the last 48 hours. I’ll tweet when it’s live.