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NASA’s New Missions April 20, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in climate, geo-engineering, science, sustainability, technology, transportation.
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Bluejay’s idol, ideal, role model, template, and Platonic form is TMQ by Gregg Easterbrook. In fact, Bluejay likes to think of itself as TMQ 0.1 minus the football analysis, deep insight into politics and economics, fancy graphics, and pictures of cheerleaders, but with third person self-references! TMQ thinks of NASA as a giant pork barrel rather than an actual federal agency. TMQ likes to post pictures from the Hubble space telescope—and these are cool, although not as cool as pictures of lightning from the Iceland volcano ash cloud—but otherwise takes a dim view of the shuttle program, the international space station, the Constellation program, etc. TMQ thinks NASA’s real core mission should be to develop techniques to protect earth from large asteroid strikes.

Apparently, Bluejay’s other idol/ideal/template/Platonic form POTUS BO agrees with TMQ’s assessment of the shuttle program, essentially forcing the agency to scrap it and to delay Constellation by five years. At the same time, however, BO is promising NASA’s a $6,000,000,000 grant to fund a circa 2035 manned mission to Mars. For the record, this is about one third of NASA’s annual budget. Here is a conservative reaction to this plan.

Bluejay is nothing if not idealistic and Platonic and thus follows the views of TMQ and POTUS. Bluejay does have something original to add to the conversation, however. Maybe. Bluejay doesn’t know what purpose the ISS serves and therefore what purpose the shuttle program—which apparently exists to supply the ISS—serves. Bluejay wonders what a manned mission to Mars will prove and/or contribute to science and society. Bluejay sees two pseudo-realistic possibilities. One, POTUS hopes that a manned mission to Mars will result in the development of medical technology for human hibernation and for sustainable power,oxygen, and food generation from fixed resources. Two, POTUS understands that the global political will to enact meaningful climate change mitigation actions doesn’t exist and is scouting Mars as a potential future home for the human race. Amen to both!

But Bluejay has an alternative suggestion in the form of alternative mission statements for NASA. Specifically, in addition to protecting earth from asteroid strikes, solar flares, and prawns, NASA should be developing two other capabilities. First, planes capable both of taking off from and landing at conventional airfields and low-orbit rocket-propelled flight. Doing this will not only cut flight times for long flights, but will also reduce the enormous greenhouse gas footprint of airplane travel. Second, NASA should develop capabilities to launch and position giant solar shields in geosynchronous orbit. As masterfully described in the previous post, we will likely need such shields to help avert dangerous climate change “tipping points” we have already locked ourselves into due to a century of action followed by nearly half a century of inaction. If NASA succeeds in developing and deploying these two technologies, solving a large part of our transportation problem and helping to head-off potential climate disaster, TMQ, POTUS BO, Bluejay, and the general public may come to view it as an albatross in the sky rather than as an albatross around the neck.

P.S. Bluejay is not a big comic book guy. Never was. And isn’t a huge fan of most comic-book-derivative movies, having seen the classic Christopher Reeve Superman trilogy and all three X-Men movies, but only the original SpiderMan, three of the 28 Batmans, and skipped several other singletons, like DareDevil, altogether. Bluejay’s favorite superhero movies of all time are IronMan—IronMan 2.0 is greatly anticipated but is sure to disappoint—and The Incredibles. Well, the duo has become a Troika.

P.P.S. Bluejay will resume its more traditional and less obnoxious first-person self-referential style tomorrow.

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