feonixrift: (Default)
[personal profile] feonixrift
I should have something to say. This is the sort of occasion when I really should, and I've thought of things to say all day, thought of them for so long that they'll largely remain unsaid.

40 years ago, we briefly touched the Moon. Today, we're on Mars. The robots that my software said had a significant chance of not making it a full 90 days, are still running. But we haven't touched Mars. There is no human who can tell us how it feels to stand on Mars and watch the dust swirl at sunset, or let its pebbles sift through their gloved hands. We've left tracks there, but no footprints.

But we've not only touched space, we've stayed. A space station exists, a manned one. It may not be everything that we dreamed of, but it's a start. The truth of the expedition to space is a dirty and detailed one, filled with emergency evacuations in the face of meteor pebble threats and puddles of slime mold in the walls. So what if it doesn't exactly match the fiction, the narrative spun to get us there, it's an amazing achievement.

That very difference is one of the core purposes of the narrative of exploration. It provides the clarity at a distance which is otherwise easily lost in the million details required to actually get there. Hopes and dreams of the stars, rather than the nauseating realization that any number of mistakes could have left the astronauts on Apollo 11 dead, or stranded and then dead. We could have left corpses on the moon. Fortunately, we didn't.

Unfortunately, narrative can also do the opposite. It can fuel the fears, remind us that space is cold, dark and silent. Give a sense that perhaps it would be best if humans just stayed on Earth. Explore a little maybe, with robots, but mainly stay home. Where it's safe. You could die crossing the street tomorrow, or die in a seal malfunction halfway to Mars. Or live, either way.

I don't think fueling astrophobic views of safety helps anything. Especially on the societal level. There are plenty of people who would take a risk to get into space, who would love to be the first to shake hands with a real honest alien on a real honest alien world, even if it meant a chance of catching real honest alien smallpox. Bold, courageous, curious people. The sort we should honor, not cage for their own safety. Even if that cage is the entire Earth.

Date: 2009-07-21 06:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] albionwood.livejournal.com
I'm all in favor of more robotic exploration and less (zero) human space flight. It seems to me we have learned enough about manned space travel to understand that it will never really work. Continuing the fantasy that we can "get off this planet" subliminally supports the idea that we can continue trashing this one... but the reality is, space flight is an enormously consumptive industry. It's a playground for the rich, especially in terms of energy. In the Age of Limits, that kind of profligate waste is immoral.

Date: 2009-07-21 06:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] feonixrift.livejournal.com
I'll certainly grant consideration of the costs to society at large - financial, environmental, social. That's a very different take on it than fear of risk.

Date: 2009-07-21 06:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] albionwood.livejournal.com
Agreed. Are people calling for an end to manned space flights out of risk-aversion? That would be doing the right thing for the wrong reason, in my view. We need to get over our obsession with safety and preservation of human life... accept and embrace our mortality, which frees us to take on risks that would be absurd if we were immortals.

Date: 2009-07-21 07:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] feonixrift.livejournal.com
I feel quite frustrated by it. I don't think society has a right to force the risk aversion of the masses upon the vastly courageous few.

Date: 2009-07-21 07:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dancinglights.livejournal.com
We're increasingly driving up those costs of manned spaceflight out of that risk-aversion mostly via redundancy and detailed harebrained rescue plans, though, which I'm sure you're aware of. I feel very conflicted about that, and a lot of the conflict comes from how the US space program as a whole seems to be more worried about the funding-impacting PR disaster of possibly having deaths on their hands than the crazy intelligent brave people actually putting their lives on the line could be deterred by a calculated probability of dying on the job. My brain replays Challenger video whether I want it to or not, I read Feynman arguing about truths and known risks and I'm left wondering what's worth it. I guess we all are.

Date: 2009-07-21 10:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] feonixrift.livejournal.com
I'd actually had no idea of the level of precaution they were going to... It's nice that they care about astronaut safety, but it's mind-boggling in a lot of ways. And yeah, even back in 2000, I recall a major attitude of "just don't do anything that could have impacts that could threaten our funding." Most of the groups I encountered seemed to live in constant fear of a funding cut, trying to squeeze as much science into whatever they could get to fly as possible, while making as few waves as possible. A sad fate for such initially bold efforts. Of course, I was nowhere near the manned missions stuff, so I have no idea what it's like, but sounds like the same deal there from the outside.

Date: 2009-07-22 12:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dancinglights.livejournal.com
Relevantly, this just showed up in my work inbox

"New NASA boss: Astronauts on Mars in his lifetime"

Date: 2009-07-22 03:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] feonixrift.livejournal.com

I'd read a news release about that (I'm trying to get back into actually having a clue what's going on with space), but the one I'd read left out the best part: "Buck Rogers didn't stop at Mars"

Date: 2009-07-22 02:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dancinglights.livejournal.com
Yeah, I think I like this guy.

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags


feonixrift: (Default)

February 2012

   1 234

Style Credit

Page generated Oct. 19th, 2017 12:25 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios