Sunday, February 3, 2008

Space Policy in the 21st Century (Lambright): Part 1

I was very fortunate when my dad handed me this book. Admittedly, he's found most of the material, and I've really been writing about what I read. I barely know where to look, be he's fixing that. Recently he gave me this book and told me that I really shouldn't lose this book. I've only read a small part of it, but I too now see it has much to tell me and anyone who would read it about how people think about space.

There are three underlying (and often overlying) goals in space that remain fairly constant that the book brought up: commercialization, science, and human exploration. The first is fairly well established in the form of satellite communication. Though that's the only major component that has any legs yet, it's still massive and has revolutionized how we send information across the planet. However, there isn't much else in the way of humanity's personal presence (the I.S.S. is first of all property of governments, and it's hardly a solid, permanent, bustling place). This goes into people actually being in space. Though there are plans for space tourism, a crewed mission to Mars doesn't have the technological strength to get there, have someone take a step, and fly back off. The shuttle is aging, and what can we do to replace it? Though an enduring design, we need something more efficiant. Maybe a new design for a ship, or maybe a new method of safely moving an object from the Earth would solve questions of efficiancy and safety, or just improve our current situation. One of the goals of the project is to find what we're working on right now for human spaceflight, but all I've seen so far is satellites and trips into low-G.

The last thought here is science. This looks like a completely different story. Thought it obviously hasn't gone far in getting people out into the void and has had some serious success in satellites and even materials develloped in space that we use on earth, the science behind it all is going mad with findings. We cannot go out and even examine a black hole with a robotic scout, nor can we send one to draw information from other stars, or floating space objects that could be rocks, gaseous masses, forms of dead star, or the great undefined forces that continue to puzzle us. However, we know they're there. We have seen these things, and we know what some of them are made of (namely stars, the ones that are on fire) by breaking down the spectrum of colours emitted. We 'see' black holes by the lack of any light escaping, and the trajectories of surrounding objects. We see galaxies as massive areas of illumination, we see supernovas when they occur, as the usual occurance (as far as we know) is violent enough to give off the light of a galaxy. We can observe other forms of radiation given off by such violent events, forming models of what we think happened. On the very deeply theoretical level, there are forces we don't understand at work, which is collectively referred to as 'dark matter'. Dark matter accounts for much more than normal matter, from what we can draw, and we only know it functions in ways that require us to rethink physics. Though much of this science doesn't do much for us down here, it's so fascinating many people can't take their eyes off of it. There's also speculation that some day we'll be hit by a meteor. Through several false alerts from objects that look threatening, it's still nice to know we'll see it coming. Through observing other celestial bodies we even know fairly well what the earth is doing around the Sun and where all the other planets are, their trajectories, etc. Withough actively doing much staring into the universe remains my funnest roller-coster ride of space talk.

Going into the book, I know that we the humans of Earth have our hands full trying not to annihilate ourselves. How many people care right now? Can we still afford to pursue these studies right now or ever?
What are we going to do anyway?

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