Monday, July 27, 2009

Space Race, Earth Race, and Where the Money Falls: Climate Change on Earth or Mars? Who Benefits?

By Paul K. Haeder

Okay, so the news just zips on by in a few days away from the blog, even after having a few moments of respite on a pretty mellow USA weekend. But there’s always the groundbreaking technology news tied to some old ways of fighting terror or boogeymen:

  • new biometric software to track Americans

"Face recognition devices failed in test at Logan" By Shelley Murphy and Hiawatha Bray, Globe Staff

  • new ways to track people’s buying and purchasing habits

  • how to catch terrorists (or illegal US government purchases) by putting in our bank information into a big computer mountain

  • or recruit more CIA operatives in the financial downturn

  • DARPA The Technological Theft of Our Privacy By Jim Hightower


The Wild Weapons of DARPA

By Nicholas Turse

"When, in October 1957, the USSR launched the first man-made earth satellite, the basketball-sized Sputnik, it caught the United States off guard and sent the government into fits. Not only had the Soviets exploded an atomic bomb years before the Americans predicted they would, but now they were leading the "space race." In response, the Defense Department approved funding for a new U.S. satellite project, headed by former Nazi SS officer Wernher von Braun, and created, in 1958, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to make certain that the United States forever after maintained "a lead in applying state-of-the-art technology for military capabilities and to prevent technological surprise from her adversaries."

Almost half a century later, what's left of the USSR is a collapsed group of half-failed states, while the U.S. stands alone as the globe's sole hyperpower. Yet DARPA, the agency for an arms-race world, seems only to be warming up to the chase. There may be no country left to take the lead from us, the nearest military competitor being China which reportedly had $65 billion in military expenditures in 2002 (compared to our $466 billion according to and which, only in 2003, put its first "Taikonaut" into outer space. Undaunted, DARPA continues to develop high-tech weapons systems for 2025-2050 and beyond – some of them standard fare like your run-of-the-mill hypersonic bombers, others more exotic."

[article continues at]

We now know China’s run for a lunar landing is being pressed hard, and it’s about colonizing to grab resources – and for space exploration beyond the galaxy. After Carl Sagan said there were billions and billions of galaxies out there, some scientists believe that there is one earth out there for every person on earth. Yikes. An earth a person. I doubt those 2 billion folk who make $2 a day or less who live on our earth could get in line for that deal.

The moon race is on with Russia shooting for 2015 as a moon colony starting date, five years before China’s expected real push for lunar landings and then a space station on the moon by 2024. Here’s some news on it all:

Ouyang Ziyuan, head of the first phase of lunar exploration, was quoted on government-sanctioned news site describing plans to collect three dimensional images of the Moon for future mining of Helium 3: "There are altogether 15 tons of helium-3 on Earth, while on the Moon, the total amount of Helium-3 can reach one to five million tons."

"Helium-3 is considered as a long-term, stable, safe, clean and cheap material for human beings to get nuclear energy through controllable nuclear fusion experiments," Ziyuan added. "If we human beings can finally use such energy material to generate electricity, then China might need 10 tons of helium-3 every year and in the world, about 100 tons of helium-3 will be needed every year."

Helium 3 fusion energy - classic Buck Rogers propulsion system- may be the key to future space exploration and settlement, requiring less radioactive shielding, lightening the load. Scientists estimate there are about one million tons of helium 3 on the moon, enough to power the world for thousands of years. The equivalent of a single space shuttle load or roughly 25 tons could supply the entire United States' energy needs for a year.

Thermonuclear reactors capable of processing Helium-3 would have to be built, along with major transport system to get various equipment to the Moon to process huge amounts of lunar soil and get the minerals back to Earth.

"After four-and-half-billion years, there should be large amounts of helium-3 on the moon," said Gerald Kulcinski, a professor who leads the Fusion Technology Institute at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Last year NASA administrator Mike Griffin named Kulcinski to lead a number of committees reporting to NASA's influential NASA Advisory Council, its preeminent civilian leadership arm.

The Council is chaired by Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Hagan "Jack" Schmitt, a leading proponent of mining the moon for helium 3.

Okay, I’ve been working with students looking at the good, bad, ugly of space exploration. And manned versus unmanned space flight, or terra forming – geo-engineering of Mars or mining the Moon. We have this month’s National Geographic discussing geo-engineering back on the table (recall Paul Crutzen’s idea to put sulfur dioxide into our earth’s atmosphere to cool the earth). Putting these discs out there into orbit will reflect or shade the earth enough to bring it down, theoretically, two degrees. Millions of dollars, or billions?

Then there’s “fertilizing” the ocean with iron as a way of stimulating algal growth so algae can transport carbon dioxide to the deep sea. Algae produces dimethyl sulphide which is involved in the formation of sunlight-reflecting clouds. Or course, the unintended consequences of this scheme is a dead ocean. James Lovelock, author of the Gaia hypothesis, and Chris Rapley, director of the Science Museum in London, wants to place vertical pipes 600 feet long in the dea and pump nutrient rich water to seed the upper ocean with algae. Both innovators admit that the scheme could fail or impact the ocean negatively. Both argue the stakes are too high not to try it. Here is a section on geo-engineering by the Guardian newspaper of London:

And then Greenpeace’s Doug Parr’s nice piece:

Geo-engineering is no solution to climate change

Tinkering with our entire planetary system is not a silver bullet. It's an expression of political despair, writes Greenpeace's Doug Parr


Okay, is it clear yet that we have a huge deficit in coming to some unified level of consciousness here on earth, and we have no real evidence of working as a conglomeration of cultures that make up this so-called global community to help humanity and our natural world move into sustainability on the real level. We need science to look here at Earth, to help with what we in planning and the other fields and disciplines tied to sustainability are calling for – preparing the planet for global warming, tipping points, positive feedback loops, lag time scenarios, the entire breadth of issues. That means looking at our problems and the solutions– scientifically, culturally, legally, engineering-wise, socially conscious directed. To work on our planet. It’s a good deal in the scheme of trillion-dollar funding: $850 million for the Mars Rover deal may seem a great bargain, since those rovers lasted more than 5 years, way beyond the 90-day warranty they were given by NASA and other scientists. But we have real problems on earth with land, air, water, people, animals, disease, equity, war, and climate change playing into all of that, and more. Science should be redirected to work on those very pressing issues. Exobiology? Well, maybe on a smaller scale. But Mars villages for mining resources? Nope.

And terra forming? We are already weather makers, and we have morphed the DNA and the climate of man and the planet by mining carbon-hydrocarbon and burning it. Our civilization’s farming and our species population bomb have reformed life on earth, and the coral reefs and the fisheries and the very water we drink have been contaminated by human greed and the toxins we release. We are in a race to stop forests from being eaten up by climate change induced pine bark beetle explosions and wild fires. We are seeing more vector-borne disease in places that have longer springs and longer falls and warmer temperatures overall. We are in a race to feed the world without collapsing nature. Alternative fuels, transportation, new living arrangements on earth, more collective and global action to help local communities survive. Perennial wheat and bio-intensive farming. Stopping obesity with diet and policy. It’s just not in the global psychological and economical budget now to have governments allow farmers to commit suicide, aquifers to drain, forests to be razed and entire future generations forced to see all of these collapses and peaking resources while spending trillions on getting guys and gals to the Moon and Mars. Do we need hundreds of millions of US taxpayer money a year spent by on figuring out how to terra-form Mars and seed it with sulfur dioxide to see if the theoretical ice will melt? Pluto, the next earth?

It is a testament to the world's catastrophic levels of inertia that when it comes to dealing with climate change, a relatively simple physical phenomenon, "geo-engineering solutions" are now being seriously looked at by scientists.

----Doug Parr

And I refer to George Monbiot (Heat) all the time as a decent journalist and thinker when it comes to climate change. He too has bitten into the geo-engineering smorgasbord, and look at Treehugger’s forum on this:

“I generally like George Monbiot's writing, but in his latest piece in The Guardian on the benefits and consequences of using biochar (aka, charcoal) buried in the ground to sequester carbon is a bit sloppy.

While I agree with his larger message that collectively there is the tendency to look for a techno-fix to our environmental problems, when the real solution is much more complex and has at least as much to do with behavioral solutions, Monbiot overreaches in blaming several leading scientists (James Lovelock and Jim Hansen among them) for stoking the fires of over-enthusiasm. Fortunately The Guardian gave room for rebuttal. Here's the back and forth:”

We have this idea that we have piles of money and scientific and technical energy to direct at the Mars and Moon missions while planet earth is barely conceived of, when we have pressing issues here for 6.6 billion people on the planet. We can’t even get off of coal as an energy source. We need an Apollo program for earth, not Mars. And then we have more aberrations that might unfortunately come to fruition – one-way missions piggybacking to Mars? Take a look:

March 4th, 2008

A One-Way, One-Person Mission to Mars Written by Nancy Atkinson

Okay, so let’s look at the political action side of things tied to CO2, global warming, and us, humans, dealing with our planet, Earth, not Mars and Pluto. We really have to get serious about change. Check out Beyond Talk, , as well as all the climate change and post carbon sites I’ve already presented on this blog. Look for those sites to be listed on our links section soon. This is just one blurb from Beyond Talk.

This December, at Copenhagen, our leaders can choose to save our civilization. After that it may be too late. It's up to all of us to hold them accountable. Won't you join us?

Scientists tell us that the maximum level of CO2 our atmosphere can safely bear is 350 parts per million. Beyond that, our planet is at imminent risk of catastrophic changes we'll never be able to stop — meaning billions of people will die. Today, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is already at 390 worldwide — and it's rising at 2 parts per million per year.

Finally, this entire space race and bowing to the almighty NASA/Cosmonaut/Helium-3 fantasy is problematic when searching on the Internet for real cogent information and opinion writing on maybe doubting NASA’s and Russia’s and Japan’s and China’s space fever. It’s about resources, science, engineering and national consciousness, and this deluded belief that technology shunted to space will feed the world and help us move people –entire countries – around so we don’t have to witness millions dying monthly because of the impacts of global warming. You just won’t find those web articles. Really.

You can search today about the China and helium-3 story, and try hard with or to see refutations of the program. Gosh, you can find a million sites on why green energy is good, bad, ugly, magic. The same goes with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The same with creationism, evolution, abortion, human population, no-till farming, and on and on. But when it comes to the Space Game, the harsh and smart criticisms of putting that much collective energy into these space schemes just aren’t there. You will find on the Internet a sort of "scrubbing of thought," or some filtering pyramid, or something very odd when it comes to hunting for criticism of manned and unmanned space exploration. ON almost any subject, on the Internet, you can find deniers, reprobates, conspiracy folk, pro and con debates, and the infinite nuancing of topics. Try it for space travel. You won’t find a lot of intellectual and philosophical criticism.

So, I did some digging on the Internet and now give you an interesting space exploration site – Space Cynic. And then a look from Carl Wunsch, oceanographer, who questions manned space and space stations on the moon and mars. Some links, and then the report about how so-called developing countries need to reap the benefits of space science/exploration. That the science and data and developments and the planets belong to the world, not just major corporations or multi-national monopolies or the governments of powerhouse G-8.


Reference --

Published on January 23, 2008. Popular Mechanics

NASA's current plan for manned space exploration focuses on establishing a base on the moon, as a vital stepping stone for a visit to Mars. The initiative has been trumpeted by the Bush administration, which wants the first mission to launch by 2020. But trouble is brewing as a growing group of former mission managers, planetary scientists and astronauts argues against any manned moon mission at all. One alternative, they say: Send astronauts to an asteroid as a better preparation for a Martian landing.

The dissenters plan to gather in mid-February at a meeting of the Planetary Society at Stanford University. “We want to get a positive recommendation to the new administration,” says Planetary Society executive director Louis D. Friedman. He supports an eventual mission to Mars, but argues that the current moon scheme was selected with inadequate debate after a speech by President Bush in January 2004. “If you said ‘humans’ and ‘Mars’ [to NASA officials] in the same sentence, you would receive a figurative slap on the face, and then four months later [the moon-to-Mars plan] was the main point on a viewgraph at the highest levels.”

In addition to examining alternatives for manned missions, the February meeting will discuss a greater emphasis on Earth science and other potential NASA space exploration priorities, Friedman says.

Article continues in Popular Mechanics


Carl Wunsch, a professor of physical oceanography at MIT, was interviewed by PM to find out how Earth scientists view the agency’s shifting priorities—and how those may affect the study of the planet. Wunsch has been involved with three reviews of NASA’s science plan, including this most recent report.

He has been misquoted and misrepresented by global warming deniers after a British TV series. Here’s a quip from him after a big climate change news series misdirected his comments about climate change:

Carl Wunsch: "I should never have trusted Channel 4"

“I believe that climate change is real, a major threat, and almost surely has a major human-induced component. But I have tried to stay out of the ‘climate wars’ because all nuance tends to be lost, and the distinction between what we know firmly, as scientists, and what we suspect is happening, is so difficult to maintain in the presence of rhetorical excess. In the long run, our credibility as scientists rests on being very careful of, and protective of, our authority and expertise.”


Wunsch’s words from Popular Mechanics

PM: The phrase excised from NASA’s mission statement only dates back to 2002. Has Earth science always been a priority for the agency?

Wunsch: If you look at the satellites NASA has flown over the years, much of that activity was directed at measuring the Earth—its land surface, biosphere, atmosphere and oceans. NASA had a real interest in Earth science. And it had scientists who really badly wanted to make these measurements. The reason the change in mission statement is troubling is because NASA has started chopping Earth missions. If it hadn’t done that, people probably would have just shrugged. But the change seems to be more than symbolic. These days, it isn’t clear why a good engineer or scientist interested in the Earth would want to work for NASA.

What missions has NASA cut?

There’s a very long list. One example that comes to mind is something called Landsat, which started 35 years ago. Data from these satellites have proved extremely useful to people who study things like deforestation, urban sprawl and changing crop types. NASA has made no provision to continue it. The Earth Observing System is a series of satellites launched in 1999 for making long-term global observations. It has yielded valuable information about changes to the Earth, such as shifts in sea level and ground-water content. It’s not been renewed. The GRACE satellites are attempting to determine, among other things, if the ice sheets are growing or shrinking. The five-year mission will end this year, and there’s no plan at the moment to fly a second one.

Why is it important to make observations over many years?

Long-term research is critical because the Earth changes comparatively slowly. If you live in New York and get three cold winters in a row, you might say, “Oh, the world is cooling off.” But that would be a very foolish conclusion. The system fluctuates and in order to see trends you need very long records.

Do you use satellite data in your own research?

I’m an oceanographer. I study primarily the way the ocean affects climate. You can’t put enough instruments in the ocean to get the kind of global coverage provided by NASA satellites. If they stop measuring the ocean, we won’t be able to predict what’s going to happen when we get events such as El NiƱo.

Have NASA’s plans for a permanent lunar base caused concern among Earth scientists?

Of course. It is going to cost billions of dollars and it’s not clear what the scientific utility is.

PM: For 2007, astrobiology programs such as the Terrestrial Planet Finder also were cut or deferred indefinitely. Is there room for both astrobiology and Earth science in NASA?

Wunsch: I think most scientists, including me, would say yes. The country can afford both an Earth-oriented program and a planet and exobiology program. The trouble comes when you get crazy things like the space station, which has cost billions of dollars and seems increasingly pointless. It’s not astrobiology that’s the issue, it’s the manned program that is eating the national budget—the space station, the shuttle, neither of which seems to make any sense.

But couldn’t political momentum just as easily shift back to funding Earth-oriented programs?

It is important to understand that NASA is, in large measure, a way the government funds the aerospace industry. Enormous companies such as Lockheed Martin get contracts that are worth billions of dollars to build vehicles to go to the moon. They’re not going to just sit there if scientists come along and say we ought to be funding less expensive Earth-looking satellites instead. The lobbying that goes on around NASA is intense. Why do you think we fly the shuttle?


“Benefits from space exploration must be shared among all nations, fourth committee is told”

Developing Countries Said to Need Help to Take Full Advantage

1 comment:

  1. There is an Apollo program, of sorts, to address issues of alternative energy systems, energy conservation, green jobs and the like.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you that we need to study the earth far more than we need to study anything in space. And we need to study our dying oceans far more than we are doing today.

    "Manned" spaceflight is unnecessary for the most part, but politically, the public finds it interesting, therefore easier to fund these boondoggles. This is a blue planet, and changing ocean temperatures change ocean currents which changes the weather (and eventually climate) over vast swaths of populated areas.

    Excellent thoughts Paul.


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