January 6, 2004


Spirit: A Star is Born, A Space Agency and A Nation Are Lifted (A.J.S. Rayl, 6 January 2004, Planetary Society)

If a Hollywood screenwriter had crafted the scenes for the last few days of the Spirit Mission Team at JPL as they really happened -- success after success, triumphant image after triumph he or she would be out of a job. In fact, that scriptwriter would never be able to find work in this town again. It's just too good. Everything is just too good -- and every one knows that life doesn't happen like that.

But for a golf-cart-sized rover named Spirit it is happening like that, so far anyway.

Ever since landing last Saturday night, Spirit has performed beautifully, returning the first visions of a new landscape. A global public has, if only for a moment here and there, stopped its Earthly endeavors to tune in or log on and glimpse this new world that is beginning to emerge in the postcards from Mars. The latest is the first color postcard Spirit has sent -- a landscape image taken by the high-resolution camera known as the PanCam that is, simply, the best -- as in highest resolution and brightest detail -- picture ever returned from Mars. Its unveiling drew plenty of applause at the daily news briefing this morning.

The NASA/JPL websites now boast more than 'one billion served,' and even behind the scenes, people are blown away. "My reaction has been one of shock and awe," offered Cornell's Jim Bell, the payload element lead for the PanCam, otherwise known as 'the guy with the cool camera.'

This year's State of the Union is on January 20th, almost exactly a year after we lost the crew of Columbia. The anniversary, these incredible pictures that are being beamed into our living rooms, and our terror fatigue create an ideal cultural moment in which to seize peoples' imaginations and renew the commitment to exploration, hopefully with first a permanent lunar base and then a permanent Mars base. As the President said at the memorial service for the crew:
This cause of exploration and discovery is not an option we choose; it is a desire written in the human heart. We are that part of creation which seeks to understand all creation. We find the best among us, send them forth into unmapped darkness, and pray they will return. They go in peace for all mankind, and all mankind is in their debt.

Look Up There: The wonderment at the search for life in space is a corrective to all the death and destruction on today's media menu. (WILLIAM SAFIRE, 1/07/04, NY Times)

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 6, 2004 10:59 PM

I truly, deeply feel that we should be doing that kind of exploration and expansion.
In a sense, that's the prime work of the human species, and most of the competing budget priorities and social distractions are either makework or navel gazing.

Alleviating poverty and helping the least fortunate among us is both good and necessary work, but, like doing the dishes, will never be finished.
Gay marriage makes for entertaining discussions, but except for a small number of people on either side, is hardly an issue that forever changes the future of humans.

One thing that we KNOW, without any doubt whatsoever, is that occasionally very large chunks of space debris hit the Earth, with devastating results.
Not only do we have the geological and fossil records of such events, and their aftermath, but we witnessed it live when Jupiter was hit by Shoemaker-Levy in '94.
Not only do we face external threats, but humans are always at risk of destroying, or at least badly damaging, ourselves.

It simply makes sense to spread out over the solar system, so that it's more unlikely that any one disaster will get us all.
It's the same reason that infantry squads spread out while on patrol, writ (very) large.

Additionally, the power and wealth that will accrue to the human race will be staggering.
Beyond applications, processes and gadgets that we haven't even conceived of yet, the simple exploitation of the Sun's constant output of energy will finally fufill the Nuclear Age's promise of power "too cheap to meter".
It would also give humans access to far more power than could be safely generated on Earth, which could be used in ways well familiar to science fiction fans.

If the gov't would set up a dedicated voluntary fund, as they did with deficit reduction, particularily if they did a dollar-for-dollar match, I'd get a part-time job and contribute 100% of that money.

Posted by: THX 1138 at January 7, 2004 7:17 AM


Thanks for posting this. Well said.

Posted by: Erich Schwarz at January 7, 2004 9:02 PM