Michael Battalio

Friday, October 26, 2012

Serious conversations (part 42):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The fortieth through forty-second entries deal with space, space travel, space exploration, and its merits.

        Previously the merits of science research (advancement of the economy for one) were discussed; specifically, space exploration both manned and unmanned was debated. In the previous two entries we waxed on about the lack of scientists who are also politicians and the aimlessness of NASA. We continue on by pointing the blame squarely on inept politicians and their greed for pet projects.

        There really is no doubt to me that the public faith in the government to do good has dropped dramatically in the last couple of decades. I don’t really have an explanation for it. It is, however, the reason that NASA lacks direction. Conservatives are such stalwarts on the uselessness of government and the magical ability of privatization that for the first time in generations the US does not have a way of getting humans into low Earth orbit, much less space itself. (I try to be as moderate and independently minded as I can, but the conservatives are really doing a good job of making the government ineffective in general.) And we are 10 years at best from getting back there, so we are 10 years from having the space faring capacity of the early 1980’s. That’s not how you capture the imagination. In 10 years no one will be excited about getting back to where we were 40 years earlier. On top of that money is wasted as politicians go through the revolving door, picking money for random projects, because they know nothing about science, that are shuttered when they leave.

        Again, the root cause of all of this poor understanding in science is that we let lawyers be in charge of funding. That is absolutely stupid. Of course NASA is floundering. Of course we aren’t doing anything about climate change or overpopulation or finding new sources of energy. We are letting people with no or at best limited knowledge of science, who are only trained to argue, make the decisions on what is important. The fact that climate change is a political issue is sickening to me and just about every other atmospheric scientist, yet there is nothing we can do about it now because it has become politicized.

        Back to the point of the discussion. I have to say that space exploration is of much higher importance to me now that I’m working for a couple of professors who study the atmosphere of Mars. Several of the satellites that they were hoping for have been canceled, and the project that was to fund my RA position was not funded. So, my perspective is very biased now. Even in light of that I can say with certainty that space exploration is crucial to the survival of our species and all life on earth. Something catastrophic will happen to the planet, even if it is a billion years from now, and all will be lost if at least one species does not find a way to expand beyond our solar system.

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