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
- Global Hawk http://www.airforce-
- and advanced and bizarre weapons used in various countries, including the USA
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 GlobalSecurity.org) 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 http://www.tomdispatch.com/
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 ChinaNews.com 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.
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
March 4th, 2008
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.
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 Niño.
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?