For rent: Kennedy Space Center

For rent: Kennedy Space Center facilities, launch pads – Science Fair: Science and Space News – USATODAY.com.

For once, let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth.

Straight off the bat, this could be a huge moneymaking opportunity for NASA. Start-up costs are a major consideration in any endeavor, and building the proper launch facilities is quite expensive, I’d imagine. But renting out the KSC from NASA, well, I dunno how much NASA would charge, but it would have to be cheaper than building your launch facilities from scratch, and they’re probably better than most commercial launch sites, at least if you’re intending to send up manned spacecraft (that aren’t Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne.)

But secondly, this could also help re-ignite the drive to space. Since the 70’s we’ve been languishing in the space exploration department thanks to politics, which have bogged down any sort of continuation into the final frontier, while not really opening up the field to private organizations that are actually interested in it. See, this is the major problem with putting anything under the thumb of government: the politicians are only going to follow the majority of the public, that 51% (or less, in some cases) of voters that will put them in office, which means that if the majority of the public loses interest in space, we’re not going to do anything with it; and the minority who are interested can’t do anything about it because they would have to go through an indifferent, disinterested government. At least let them use their own resources–waste them, even–on getting into space, but let them do it. What harm could come of it? In fact, their purchasing of materials and labor would probably have given the economy a boost.

But, even if we’re a few decades late on this front, better late than never. I’m quite sure all the “private” spaceflight for the next 20 years will be some sort of public-private partnership, which I am told is the “worst of both worlds,” but I feel it must be better than having a fully public program. At least we’ll be getting people up there, and onto more than just the ISS. Who knows, maybe…the Moon? Mars? Or even the stars? (Okay, I did that just to make a rhyme.)

The Red Planet, ready for its close-up.
We need to get our redstone from somewhere.

I’m going to get lumped with other sci-fi writers out there for saying this, but so be it: it’s vital we get back into space. The last space race was a huge technological leap forward for our entire planet, and with what we have now, think of what could happen if we go to another one. Teflon is so 1980s; tomorrow we’ll have transparisteel! But not only that, there’s also the environment to consider. I’m not exactly the biggest greenie weenie out there, but I still care about Mother Earth, and its clear that we’re poisoning her, no doubt about it. We’re also running low on natural resources, at least those we need to sustain our global society, so we need to start looking for other places to get resources from.

And finally there’s the whole issue of just having an offworld colony as a “backup.” I don’t really think we’re going to have a mass extinction event in the next 100 years, but even so, there’s no harm in having an offworld colony. It might actually be good, stimulating trade, and most importantly, a sense of adventure that I feel has not been nourished very well for the past generation; sure, we feel it, but the only time it gets satiated is in a movie theater or playing a video game. No, I’m talking about really taking care of it. Then there’s the political possibilities; the last time we had a major colonization effort in the “New World,” there was a revolution and the establishment of the first modern representative democracy, with limited government and checks and balances. If we start colonizing Mars–or just space in general if we want to go the orbital habitat route, although that’s more effort-intensive–who knows what sort of political and societal revolutions we’ll engender. It could be the spark to re-ignite a stagnate global civilization. But we won’t know if we don’t go out there.

I look upon this with great interest and great hope. I’m sure something will get botched up, it always does, but hopefully there will be more good than bad coming out of this.

Science’s real problem

I was reading this interesting article in the Independent about scientists, and namely, their lamentation that they are under “villification” by “polemicists” in the media. And that’s a fair question; science has been misrepresented and misconstrued for years. Journalists like big, definite things to sell to their readers, even when science doesn’t really have such a big thing, or it has misgivings or qualifications as to what it’s trying to present.

But the problem that the new president of the Royal Society brings up isn’t so much the media’s fault. Rather, I feel it lies at the fault of the scientists. We are both, of course, talking about “climate change” (or “anthropogenic global warming,” or what-have-you.) This is certainly a field full of controversy. But what exactly is Sir Paul talking about when he says that scientists are “under attack” and that he is shocked at the “vilification and distrust levelled at some scientists?” I don’t really see that going on. Sure, you have some blowhards on talk radio and late night cable saying some dumb things. Ignore them, they say dumb things about everybody. But in general, has there been vilification and distrust?

I argue against the former but tentatively for the latter. No, people are not “vilifying” scientists, and we are not going on a crusade against them. But there are a great number who are skeptical of what these scientists are saying, and are even more skeptical at their so-called “remedies” to our so-called “problems.” And is not skepticism the entire crux of which science depends upon? Is not science saying, “What is that, how does it work, why does it happen that way, and I’m not sure I buy that explanation“?

For this case, I point to the scandal at East Anglia. The article states that “four independent inquiries have cleared the scientists involved of scientific fraud or misconduct” but pray tell, what was the point of altering the data in such a fashion? No one has explained this to me. Not one. And I’m just supposed to buy that “this is how we do science?” Balderdash.

There are also serious questions raised over how they gained the data, namely over their temperature stations, many of which started out in rural areas but were then absorbed and surrounded by pent-up conurbations, particularly in China, thus distorting the data for later years. There’s the question of the IPCC’s inclusion of an unfinished grad student’s paper in their report, and their information on receding glaciers taken from casual remarks made by hikers.

There is undoubtedly a great deal of questioning about how much federal funding goes into projects to study “global warming” and into the supposed remedies for it. Let’s open up that can of worms; I’d be very interested in that sort of information, though I doubt Sir Paul and his ilk would be. They always croon about “global warming denialists” receiving money from the big bad oil companies, but has anyone done a serious inquiry into how much money government pours into the coffers of climate change scientists? And has anyone connected the dots and thought, if the scientists concluded that global warming was not happening, what would happen to said government funds?

And finally, there’s a very big question of: have their looked up recently? I can excuse the scientists at East Anglia for missing this–they do live in England, after all–but there is a very large body of burning gas up there that emits a huge amount of light and heat, and is one, if not the one, major factor in our climate. Maybe if they talked more about the Sun rather than us piddling human beings who cannot hope to blow this planet asunder–well, not yet, anyways–they’d get less dubious looks.

No, the real problem facing scientists is that they act shocked–shocked, I tell you–that the public has the temerity to doubt their assertions. Other intellectuals, fine, they’re used to that. But the public? The public is supposed to take their statements unquestioningly! After all, they’re scientists! This is their job! They cannot accept the public doubting their conclusions. They (probably) feel its going back to pre-Enlightenment times. That is the problem facing scientists today. And thus, the problem is not with science at all.

For the record, I do believe in climate change and global warming, however, I do not believe it affects us nearly as much as these scientists do. No, I believe that it will not be a serious threat to our existence for at least three or four centuries, most likely longer. New York City will not be flooded by 2050 (maybe if there was a god, it would be), the polar bears will still have glaciers, and demagogues will have other issues to complain about.

I welcome scientists who wish to enter the debate, and “take on” those “polemicists” in the “media” who distort what they say. But let’s all be honest about this. Otherwise, they’re being as polemical as all those other guys.