The Long View 2005-09-22: Bush makes the sun go nova.


NASA finished  up the Exploration Systems Architecture Study (ESAS) in 2011. At this point, Elon Musk is showing them up.

Bush makes the sun go nova.

Does the president have any friends left? He has a popular base that is probably a plurality of the people, and a majority will still give him a hearing, but no political movement supports him now. You know you are in trouble when someone as sympathetic as Peggy Noonan is saying things like this about your administration:

Well, they probably can, short term.

Long term, they've had bad history with weather. It can change.

We should understand that La Noonan is concerned to defend the honor or Ronald Reagan, from whose policies the Bush White House is surreptitiously distancing itself. In essence, her complaint is that the Reagan Administration spent money like a drunken sailor, but at least it had the grace of hypocrisy: it decried the deficits its own policies were creating. The Bush people, in contrast, pay no compliments to the virtues of fiscal responsibility and small government, but just spend more money without even mentioning the possibility of consequences.

Katrina is the brick, the brick wall, that broke the camel's back. Frankly, I find a little insane the argument of Bush's latest critics that this is a good opportunity for New Orleans and the Gulf states to rediscover the blessings of local government. Controlling the Mississippi is not a local issue; neither is the protection of the petroleum industry. And neither is the condition of the new communities the new levees and canals are going to protect. Nonetheless, opposition has its effect, whether or not it is reasonably supported.

The coalition that elected Bush has disintegrated. Contrary to expectations, it was not God that was the problem, but Mammon.

* * *

I really don't know what to make of these reports: The truth about global warming - it's the Sun that's to blame. Whatever the truth of the matter, they are certainly proliferating. Look:

A study by Swiss and German scientists suggests that increasing radiation from the sun is responsible for recent global climate changes.

Dr Sami Solanki, the director of the renowned Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany, who led the research, said: "The Sun has been at its strongest over the past 60 years and may now be affecting global temperatures.

They do often come with caveats:

He added, however, that the study also showed that over the past 20 years the number of sunspots had remained roughly constant, while the Earth's temperature had continued to increase.

But then we learn that new gullies that did not exist in mid-2002 have appeared on a Martian sand dune:

That's just one of the surprising discoveries that have resulted from the extended life of NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, which this month began its ninth year in orbit around Mars. Boulders tumbling down a Martian slope left tracks that weren't there two years ago. New impact craters formed since the 1970s suggest changes to age-estimating models. And for three Mars summers in a row, deposits of frozen carbon dioxide near Mars' south pole have shrunk from the previous year's size, suggesting a climate change in progress.

We do, of course, have little notion about what drives climate change on Mars, or how often the ice advances or retreats. Nonetheless, news like this does provide wonderful rhetorical opportunities along the lines of "if only we had ratified Kyoto, the southern polar caps of Mars would not be evaporating." We should be careful what we wish for, though. Does anyone really want the sun to be getting warmer for some reason we don't understand? Just how much hotter is it going to get? It is much too soon for the sun to go off the main sequence, but it could do a lot of unpleasant things short of exploding.

So be good.

* * *

Unpleasant things can happen on Earth quite without added solar output. The consulting firm Stratfor recently attempted to explain a class of them: the eagerness of appalling states to acquire small nuclear stockpiles:

[T]his entire strategy rests on one key assumption: that your country is situated in a sufficiently strategic locale that great powers should care whether you have nuclear weapons or not.

If that is the case, here is how to manage the situation:

2. It is vital that you adopt a political culture in which foreigners believe that the total annihilation of your country is a matter of monumental indifference to you, so long as you get to destroy part of some other country. At the very least, you must appear crazy enough to raise questions in the minds of foreign diplomats as to whether you might do something crazy.

3. You must never actually do anything really crazy, like make it appear that you are about to launch a nuclear attack with your three weapons. Since you're not really good at this yet, it will take time to move the weapon, load it on a missile or plane, and launch. During that time, someone might conclude that you really have weapons and that you really have lost your mind and nuke you. Don't do anything that actually appears to make you an immediate danger -- just create the impression that you are almost posing an immediate danger. It's probably best to spend ten years almost ready to be a threat.

The fallacy here is that the behavior this analysis counsels is that of a status quo power, one that does not want to change its environment in any serious way. None of the small states seeking to go nuclear could be so described.

* * *

Want to leave Earth? The Space access Society explains why the recommendations of NASA's recently released Exploration Systems Architecture Study (ESAS) will not get you anywhere you want to go:

However, we have a much more fundamental problem with ESAS. This Apollo redux has the same fatal flaw as Apollo: The specialized throwaway systems invented to get (back) to the Moon ASAP were (will be) far too labor-intensive at far too low a max flight rate to allow affordable followup. The new ships are not only based in significant part on existing Shuttle components and facilities, but they are to be operated in significant part by the existing Shuttle organization. IE, tens of thousands of people narrowly specialized in various aspects of flying a handful of astronauts on a handful of missions a year - at, by the time all this fixed overhead is added up, billions of dollars a mission. Like Apollo, NASA's new ESAS plan has built into it the seeds of its shutdown by some future Congress, once the warm glow of the first few daring missions has once again faded.

If real spaceflight is too taxing, then we can retreat into the fantasy of Joss Whedon's film, Serenity, which premiers in the US on September 30. It's a cinematization of the regrettably soon canceled Firefly series, with much the same cast.

It's essentially a post-Civil War Western, with the captain of the trading ship Serenity a former officer on the losing side of a galactic civil war. There is nothing wrong with projecting a genre into a new locale. Still, I start to wonder: what would a real space story be like, meaning a story based on the experience of a world in which human spaceflight was routine? I suspect it would be as different from Serenity as Das Boot is from 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.

* * *

Do you have a pet peeve with the news media? Then consider sending it to Second Draft, directed by the medievalist Richard Landes of Boston University:

Welcome to the home page of The Second Draft. This website is devoted to exploring some of the problems and issues that plague modern journalism. In this age of globalization, the media has unprecedented influence on the way we see the world. And yet, whether out of misplaced good intentions, unconscious agendas and predispositions, or unwarranted faith in false information, they can get the story dramatically wrong. Therefore, we want to revisit and critique journalism's "first draft of history", and hopefully produce a more accurate second one.

At the moment, the only story on the site tries to show that news reports depicting Israeli atrocities have been doctored in the interest of the Palestinians, but the site's brief is wider than the Middle East. Unedited audiovisual evidence that contradicts journalistic commentary seems particularly welcome.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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