Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

A Crash Course in Space Exploration

On Friday, January 14th, the Huygens space probe (successfully detached from Cassini on Christmas day) will land on Titan, Saturn's largest moon. It will take a 2-hour plunge through the atmosphere and, if it survives the plunge, hits solid ground, and survives the crash, it may last for a few minutes. The entire Cassini-Huygens mission is estimated to end up costing $3.25 billion by the time it wraps up 2008.

Another NASA space probe, "Deep Impact," launched today and will smash into the compet Tempel 1 on July 4th. Scientists are hoping to blow a stadium-sized hole in the large comet to see what's inside. Amusingly, the payload for Deep Impact includes a CD-ROM with half a million names on it, of people who apparently wanted their names vaporized in a 23,000 mph collision with a heavenly body. This mission will cost $330 million all told.

So are these projects worth the money? Don't get me wrong--I love that we're funding 'em--but justifying the fun isn't so easy. There are tangible benefits to the space program, mostly in terms of technologies developed, but if that were the goal, we could just invest the money directly in technology development instead. The only real way to justify space exploration I can think of is to wave your hands, appeal to history, destiny, and the love of adventure, and argue that increasing our knowledge of the universe is a worthy endeavor in and of itself.

And believe me, NASA has become an expert at doing just that, but all they've been able to do with 40 years of propaganda is just about keep their budget stable--even with Bush's "new" push to land on Mars, oh, sometime before the Second Coming. Well, perhaps this new trend of crashing our spacecraft into rocks at high speeds will bring the NASCAR dads onboard.

Comments? Discussion? :)


The Law Talking Guy said...

At 5am PST, the Huygens probe will begin its 2 hour descent. Set your Tivos on stun. That means that by the time most people get to work back East (8am-10am) we'll start to know what's up. My prediction: little green men with a sign "Yankee Go Home."

Raised By Republicans said...

An occaision like this calls for schnapps!

In defense of slamming the names of wealthy donors into heavenly bodies, I'd like to point out the possibility of the heavenly bodies slamming into the actual donors... and the rest of us.

The looking for life on Titan thing...well, anything that makes religious fundamentalist luddites squirm is worth a few billion bucks.

How about this: we know that Titan's atmosphere is made largely of methane. All that methane had to come from some where. And didn't Reagan teach us that methane air pollution was really the fault of cow farts not heavy industry? Therefore, Republican ideology predicts life on Titan!

Raised By Republicans said...

Brussels, the Huygens has landed.

Doesn't quite have the same ring to it but let's not forget this is a joint NASA-ESA project. It was started back in the Clinton Administration...remember those happy times, when we actually talked with our allies? Aw...But back to little green men on a little green planetoid. says the place is too cold for life but I saw a show on the Discovery Chanel (so it MUST be true) that says that life exists in nearly every environment here on Earth including the really really cold ones in Antarctica. So I'm all for emperical research on this question.

No pictures are posted yet (as of 9am) but I'm looking forward to seeing how a Titanian flips the bird.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Pictures are now coming in. It's not 100% certain but they think they see coulds, hills, ice, rocks, and an ocean! (But NOT H20). It looks like another world. NASA has photos also but Hugyens is really ESA's baby, so they will have the photos etc. first. Check 'em out.

It's just incredible that they've accomplished this! Go turn the light on in your office and try to imagine how far away something would have to be for light to take over an hour to travel that distance. And it has worked flawlessly. No wonder the engineers in the control room were crying. But then again, most of them were Italians :)

Raised By Republicans said...

Opposable thumbs rock! I'd like to see a dolphin pull this one off!

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