Friday, April 16, 2010
Virtually all of the 1,891 species protected under the 1973 Endangered
Species Act owe their endangered status to loss of habitat. Although the
U.S. astronaut program is not officially classified as endangered, it
should be. Putting people in space was one-upmanship by the USSR at the
height of the Cold War. The Cold War ended in 1991, by which time the
Soviet Union had spent itself into collapse. By then a powerful industry
had built up in the U.S. around putting people in space. The primary
space habitat of astronauts for almost 30 years was the space shuttle.
Sold to Congress as an inexpensive way to launch things into space, it
turned out to be by far the most expensive method for reaching orbit ever
devised. Nevertheless, it built a monstrous ISS in low-Earth orbit. ISS
operation is shared by the space agencies of five nations, but with the
rickety shuttle now retired, access to the ISS is controlled by Russia.
The lobbyists went to work. In 2005 George Bush had a Vision for Space
Exploration. His vision began with a program to return to the Moon.
The program was called Constellation. Two boosters are already in the
process of design by NASA. Ares I would put crews in space, while Ares V
would launch hardware.
This is the 21st Century. To send humans on long voyages long voyages in
environments for which we were not evolved is terminally miguided. On
February 1, 2010 President Obama proposed to cancel Constellation in the
FY 2011 budget. Most scientists cheered, and when he scheduled a major
space policy speech at Kennedy Space Center for yesterday, it was widely
assumed that it would be to enlarge on his February 1 decision to scrap
Constellation. Every op-ed and TV commentary in anticipation of his talk
began with a recital of technological benefits of putting humans in
space. They cited everything from Hubble to GPS; they had no connection
at all to putting humans in space. What the heck, it's April,
Persephonys soft footsteps have covered Washington with blossoms; this is
the season for resurrections, but it was a serious mistake to resurrect
Constellation. Whoever sold Obama on this has weakened his Presidency.
The idea of sending humans into space is hopelessly old fashioned.
I read another article this week in which a physician warns that the risk
for each use is minimal, "but over the years repeated exposure could
produce genetic damage leading to cancer." Ive been trying for years to
throw a rock across the Potomac River. So far, they dont go half way,
but Ill keep trying in case its cumulative.
Financial Times this includes both thermal coal used in power plants
and coking used in steel making. This is the first time in recorded
history that China has been a net importer. It has serious implications
for carbon emissions.