Friday, January 4, 2008

Obama's Space Policy

On the idea of Obama being President of the United States, there is one aspect of his way of thinking that I think is such a bad idea that it, alone, quite nearly disqualifies him as President as far as I am concerned.

Obama proposes significant cutbacks to Nasa’s budget, significantly postponing its manned space flight program, in order to free up money for his other programs.

I believe that there is one area in which there is a massive gap between the thinking of an atheist (such as myself) and anybody who believes in God. Those who believe in God believe that we are under the watchful eye of a benevolent and omnipotent being who is not going to let anything seriously harm the human race. There is, for all practical purposes, zero chance of human extinction. There may be a ‘rapture’ or some similar event, but this is not human extinction so much as humanity (or much of it) moving into a new neighborhood, and absolutely nothing that we should be trying to prevent.

As an atheist, I hold that we live in a universe that is entirely indifferent to our survival – a universe that could wipe humanity out in the blink of an eye without a second of remorse, because it needs no remorse. The universe has a lot of ways to do this too – from a new disease, to gamma-ray bursts, to a collision with a large rock, to massive solar flares, to ecological collapse.

Our survival is not guaranteed. So, I advocate the philosophy that the first priority should be to ensuring human survival. People who do not appreciate this fact do not appreciate the value of programs that will have the most measurable effect on preserving our species. The best way to preserve our species is to put an end to the current situation in which we have all of our human eggs in one basket, and to disburse those eggs somewhat. That is the only way that the destruction of Earth will not take humanity itself with it.

Does this sound melodramatic?

It is simple math – as easily proved as anything in science. We know that there are forces out there that are capable of driving human-like species into extinction. I can state with almost perfect confidence that at least one intelligent civilization will exist whose people will not act to ensure their own survival, and will be known to other races only through the archaeological relics that they leave behind.

Will we be that civilization?

I can understand why Obama would not want to continue Bush’s space exploration initiative. It is a Republican plan and its continuation will keep a Republican name in the paper. A lot of us would like to become the victims of selective amnesia and forget the absurdity and stupidity of the last four years.

However, if there were no way to remove this monument to the man who best exemplifies stupidity, arrogance, and incompetence is to gamble with the future of humanity itself, I would let this monument stand.

There are other alternatives. I have argued before, if I were President, I would scrap Bush’s space station plan and simply use the money to offer prizes for private entities that accomplished certain goals. I think that it is valuable to figure out how to send four people to the moon to do some research and bring them back to Earth. Instead of having the government spend $104 billion on the project, how about simply offering $10 billion to the first team that can pull it off, $5 billion to the next, and so on, and wait for the results.

This is just one suggestion. I could probably think of 898.87 others.

Snubbing Bush’s project should not come at the expense of putting human existence itself in the pot and asking the fates to roll the dice.

Sorry, the future of humanity itself is so important compared to any other issue, that the candidate who sacrifices this, whatever he may be willing to do elsewhere, has got a serious mark against him. I simply do not want humanity to end up as a stack of orbiting museum pieces for some other space-faring species to discover.


soldbysteven said...

I think this segment of Alonzo's blog has an underlying fatalism to it. In my view earth will always be mother earth, humanity's irreplaceable home. The tragedy of Bush is that he disrespected this fact with serious consequences that now must be addressed, and addressed with diligence. I view space exploration as a means to enhance our race's appreciation of what the earth means to humanity -- as was the precise experience of more than one space traveler. Space travel is important because it raises human awareness and expands human knowledge. It should not be viewed as an eventual substitute for earth. Obama is not my candidate of choice due to his inexperience, his vanity, his lack of vision reflected in his superficial sloganeering, his lack of emotional maturity and strength. In this sense he is youth's ideal candidate, inasmuch as he reflects the worst qualities of youth, as outlined above. Cancelling the space program would be an arrogant step backwards, to the country's detriment, at a time when other nations are turning their efforts to space exploration.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


Fatalism is not the right word.

Perhaps this perspective will work. At work, one of the things that I am involved in is disaster recovery.

The plan is for our existing IT network to be the network that our firm uses into the indefinite future. We may upgrade it. However, we have no plans to completely rebuild it from the ground up.

Yet, we might have to.

To plan for this eventuality that we hope never will happen, we have off-site backups - a way of restarting after a catastrophy.

It is not 'fatalism' to have a disaster recover plan.

It is prudence.

Many businesses have died because they failed to make a disaster recover plan.

I would also bet that, in the universe, there will be more than one intelligent race that will go extinct as well, where a disaster recovery plan would have saved them.

EvilPoet said...

Obama talks a lot about civil rights - what about my civil rights? Do they count? I can't tell from this encounter.

If the following is any indication, I'd say probably not:

Obama cautioned against Democratic or progressive strategies that would avoid conversations about religious values altogether. He said most Democrats have "taken the bait" to avoid debating such issues out of fear of offending anyone.

"We first need to understand that Americans are a religious people, 90 percent of us believe in God . . . and substantially more people believe in angels than do those who believe in evolution," Obama said. (Source)

Interesting aside - according to the above article Obama's Dad "died an atheist".

Eneasz said...

soldbysteven, I'm not sure I understand your reasoning. Even if somehow we managed to prevent, avert, or survive every single catastrophe that will befall earth in the next several billion years, there will come a time when the sun runs out of fuel and expands to a radius that will encompass all the inner planets (including earth). Last I heard, this is estimated to happen in aprox. 5 billion years. It is simply impossible for earth to forever remain humanity's irreplaceable home. And chances are, disaster will strike much sooner than that.

soldbysteven said...

Eneasz, I think it's a far higher priority for humanity to save the planet Earth from destruction than it is to be concerned to find a substitute planet to flee to after this world is rendered uninhabitable. That is the immediate challenge. Humanity has no choice to do otherwise but meet this challenge, since the technology is not available for the human race to either find a safe haven or to create one. If humanity succeeds in saving the planet then the need for a safe haven in another part of the galaxy becomes much less of a concern except to our far distant representatives, because while it's true in billions of years the earth's life will end, that is at such a far removed era that it need not concern humanity at this point in time. In fact it is a distraction from the real matter at hand: Saving the planet and its species. Realistically, the cosmic event you refer to is the farthest thing from being imminent as is imaginable and so has very little importance for us in this era.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


First, I deny the truth of your assumption that the future of humanity is planet-bound. I hold that humanity in the future will not live on planets but in space itself. The material in the asteroid belt can create the living space equivalent to 30,000 earths. We do not need to go looking to (or moving to) another planet. Everything we need is right above us.

Second, space resources provide one method of saving the planet. We have an option - either to cut deeper and deeper scars into the living earth, or learn to harvest resources from the dead of space where we do not touch any living being. All production is basically reduced to applying energy to matter. Space is filled with energy - 24/7. It also happens to have a lot of matter.

In space, distance is not really measured in miles. It is measured in "delta-v" (or 'change in velocity'). It's the amount of energy that it takes to shift the energy of one's solar orbit to one that matches earth to one that matches some other body in the solar system (such as the moon).

In delta-v terms, there are 600 known asteroids 'closer' to the moon. Meaning, it would take less energy to land on the asteroid, scoop up a bunch of stuff, and deliver the stuff to earth's orbit than it would take to go to the moon and launch the stuff into earth's orbit.

In space, there are no waste products, because that which has no other use can still be used to construct shielding from cosmic rays.

So, huge amounts of energy 24/7, raw materials, and an off-site backup in case of catestrophic harm to the Earth. All of this is within reach.