Transcendental Bloviation

Politics, Space, Japan

Monday, April 09, 2007

Space Cadet Turner Reporting for Duty

Henry asked me last night, "Why are you interested in space?" After all, clearly I am -- I talk about it, I write essays about it and get them published, I go to space conferences, I contribute to online forums devoted to it. I mumbled something about how I was the usual Space Cadet case -- reading lots of science fiction as a kid, then going into engineering for a lving.

Then I saw the subtext of Henry's question: "Why are you, a middle-aged man, interested in space?" An--leaving aside any Puer Aeternus self-diagnosis for the moment--I told the truth: 9/11 shook me up. As it did all of us, of course, but in particular it made me ask "Why wasn't the real 2001 more like the movie?" and "What did I used to be really interested in, and how does that former interest relate to what I might want to do with the rest of my life? "

Perhaps the horror of the events of that year aroused the escapist in me. At the same time, however, in 2001 and afterward, I couldn't suppress another automatic reaction I have to the world now, as an adult and as someone who likes to think about things: why is it that some things happen, and other things don't? I could see (sort of) why airliners piloted by fanatics plowed into the Twin Towers--geopolitically, sociologically, I could make some kind of sense of it in the end. But as for why the events were not also greeted with horror by thousands of lunar colonists--that was a mystery. And it was one I felt like solving.

You'll see these preoccupying questions ("Why this? Why not that?") and my attempts at answers in the essays I write. My most recent essay, "When semantics, politics and reality collide: the 'space tourism' debate", is in some sense a sociolinguistics discursion. There, I'm saying that it's in the very nature of language that the great mass of people who are less interested in the details and the advancement of some enterprise will inevitably want to call things by one name, while those who are more concerned with the endeavor will use other terms, reflecting technical distinctions or internal political sensitivities. And that it's in the nature of language that there's little that anyone can do about it.

Before that, in "'Permission to believe' in a Moore's Law for space?", I pointed out how space launch hardware development and integrated circuit development couldn't be more different, in every way that mattered for rates of technological progress -- and that's why we have almost absurd progress in computer hardware and networking, while rocketry inches forward, with slowly branching technological family trees of designs with that all-important "heritage".

I'm starting to think about another essay, about why open source software processes probably won't help very much in non-governmental space efforts. Again, you can see the implicit question: "Why not?" I think it's part of growing up -- or my growing up, anyway -- that these words go from being a rhetorical question, a protest against the status quo, a Kennedyesque oratorical posture, and become a part of true, unbiased inquiry. I don't want to give up those former uses of the question. But in the end, I want answers. Life is short, it keeps getting shorter as you get older, and being able to see all the way down a blind alley beats walking to the end of it and banging your head against the wall.

One of these days I'll tackle the ultimate "Why not?" question in space advocacy: Why are some people hardly interested in space at all? I'd love to come up with an unignorable answer for the space advocacy community. It's a question they dislike facing. At one point, last night while arguing with Henry, we finally arrived at the obvious reason for our differences over a space access issue: he's not as pro-space as I am. I asked him, "Would you care if somebody paid $20 million to go into orbit, and turned out to be a crook, causing a storm of public outrage about how government space infrastructure (much of which was justified in terms of 'speaking to the highest aspirations of mankind') got used by some rich thug, with the upshot being that this branch of commercial space travel was shut down for the indefinite future?" His answer was "No." To him, the principle that anyone should be able to buy anything that was legal and on the market was more important. I happen to think he was overapplying the principle -- many industries -- but particularly those catering to the rich or dependent on government facilities -- manage their image in part by qualifying the customer. But at least I knew the source of my differences with him.


At 6:20 AM, Blogger Monte Davis said...

Why are some people hardly interested in space at all?

(1) people vary, both temperamentally and over the years, in how interested they can become in anything with a long time scale

(2) Perception of the time scale likely for greatly expanded space activity was strongly skewed to "any day now" in 1957-1969. That most people have gotten over that -- and default to putting space in the same mental bin as "world peace" or "universal prosperity" -- seems to me natural, or at any rate a less interesting question than why so many space enthusiasts haven't.

At 9:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

concentration:'but on that which as yet we know not -- how shall we con-
centrate?'picked up your blog on a search --tran-
scendental office cue -- pg1 google. was trying to find a heuristic probe to
trace the subconscient source of the apocolyptic implant the Bush cartel indulges so amicably. there is some peril in your methods might take some time and care
to recheck the base for
solidness. meanwhile --
"Mother's Agenda" and anything by Sri Aurobindo
is absolutely worthwhile
reading...thank you


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