The Palimpsest of Sawbones Surio

Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will

Space age seems dead. Long live the space age.

with 5 comments

The economist’s recent article, titled, “The end of the space age” raised a lot of hackles (see comments in that link). The latest Archdruid Report tackles this subject head on in his latest post.

What resonated in that article for me, was how entrenched the pervasive “myth” of the space age has been in much of the World’s collective conscious during the cold war period, regardless of caste, creed, colour, race, religion and whatever other division we know of. The other common myth that carries the same fixation and following of a similar scale was discussed by Jacob Fisker in his aptly titled, “Myths and the future”.

Seriously, the comments on Greer’s post were equally chilling for me too, becaue it showed how much every cold-war boy/girl around the World that was drawn into the “Space Age” propaganda (Yes, like all other myths, this one too is clever propaganda, no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves it isn’t).

I still have vivid recollections of animated discussions on Skylab around the house, due to the characteristic helicopter blade look of the satellite and the controversy regarding its “reentry” and damage. We were also flooded with Soviet Cosmonaut books (courtesy of the great “Mir publishers”). And if you believe, we sent a man into space ;-) (due apologies to R.E.M). The Indian mass media was not far behind! We had wall-to-wall television programmes on Space such as Space City Sigma and Indradhanush (Rainbow) (*)

(*) This one showed Disney’s Flight of the navigator running on a TV screen on the background — the creators’ nod to their source of inspiration, I suppose ;-) (I like references, however oblique they may be). My father was astute enough to spot it and took me to watch the film later on when it was released finally in India. :-)

And then there was the overdose of Superman comics too (thanks to my father again :-)) (Bottle city of Kandor, anyone?) And so, I too was not spared of this juggernaut, and growing up, space was all that was, and I wanted to be a “rocket scientist”! I was hooked!

But I “grew up” (both metaphorically and realistically) and realised that if our track record of how we managed terra firma is anything to go by, I do not want us to be going anywhere at all!.

I later found out that Bill Watterson, had actually done a strip echoing my innermost thoughts with a Calvin and Hobbes’ “trip to Mars” (as early as September 1988. The man was quite prescient)! With that motivation and background, enjoy Calvin and Hobbes’ adventures to Mars. Each panel is dripping with Watterson’s ironic commentary of the famous “American/Humankind” projected self image — Notice that rant from Calvin in response to Hobbes’ subtle hint “Maybe they don’t like us”. This mindset and outlook verily dominates the Indian blogosphere a lot these days because of the misguided “India has arrived” mindset. So, Americans take heart, we are soon to be joining your ranks due to our own hubris as well. :-|

Enjoy the abridged trip to Mars!


I Part of the Strips

II Part of the Strips

III Part of the Strip

I was part of the space crowd growing up. Strangely, Star Trek never moved me… but Giant Robot was a big hit with me :-) (Oh those finger missiles were ‘deadly’!). Eventually, I realised that it is much more important to focus on the here and now rather than Space and beyond to indulge in ego massages!

Before anyone accuses me of being shortsighted and pessimistic, think about this. Granted, given the need for Humans to strive beyond, stretch their imagination, etc…etc… we have consistently chosen immediate security again and again (and continue to do so). So in the lines of the old Chinese quote “Dreams don’t cook rice” which is what we all fundamentally need in the end. Ermine discusses this in his latest post and so does Jacob Fisker in his gardening for self-sufficiency post. Laugh all you may at their so-called “naivety”, but store those two posts in the dim recesses of your memory. Mark my word, for they will come to haunt us in the coming decade!

Have a good weekend and take care!

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Written by Surio

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5 Responses

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  1. Actually I’m going to stick my neck out and assert that the Economist is not saying the same thing as the Archdruid. I’m with the Economist and not with the Archdruid here.

    I was one of those schoolkids too. The Economist called out the fall of the Imperial dream. The Archdruid report asserted we are short of energy. At the moment that is the energy of mind. We have far more than enough gasoline/energy products to do a Moon shot. It is the failure of will that rings out the tone of the cracked bell that people hate to hear. The West was built on conquering new places, it was the drive to subjugate, to win. It could never last on a finite world, and we hate the echo from the distant canyons, never coming back as clear.

    There is so much wrong and impossible with the human conquest of Space, given the current state of scientific knowledge. We could get round the carbon footprint, for the moment. We couldn’t get people to Alpha Centauri and back, even though we could have a stilted but meaningful dialogue were there to be interested aliens on the radio there.We can’t get round the futility of it all, it’s the first frontier that pushed right back and said “no, you will not pass this way”. That does not square with the faint wisps of the Enlightenment values that are still part of the myth of the West.

    We all, as we grow older, find that there are limits to our agency. Maturity is working with those limits to create deeper and greater value despite the limits. We all are called, but few are chosen. The West didn’t measure up to that challenge in this case, but I don’t think that JMG’s case is carried, that it failed because we ran out of gas. We ran out of the fire within, and people hate seeing that.

    Why the sudden hoo-hah about the Moon landings, now anyway? it was July ’69 ISTR. Perhaps “wheels stop” on Atlantis is a particularly American thang, but it was the three long decades since the Moon landings that recorded the visionary flameout in the records of history….

    ermine

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  2. I watched the moon landing on TV back in the late 60′s. My wife and I had been married for about four years at the time. I was not especially moved by all the hoo ha, but we watched it on black and white TV. Since that viewing, I have not thought much about it. Many websites and authors have come around to say it was a terrific hoax. The whole thing shot in a studio in England. Do I know the landings were a hoax? No. Do I know they actually happened? No. Do I have a way to find out? No.
    This is like so many other things we must deal with. Back in the 60′s, Kennedy was president. Few would have doubted the US actually landed men on the moon. Also few would have doubted the official story that a lone gunman killed the president. People tended to trust the US Government on announcements like those. Since then much evidence has arisen to show otherwise. This is immaterial in nature, as the average citizen is not ever going to know for sure one way or the other.
    One would do better by simply asking in these cases “Who benefits?” If we are tricked on the moon landing, who would benefit from the hoax? You would have more luck figuring out why someone would benefit from a lie.
    As to the end of the Space Program due to funding, I would again ask :Who benefits?
    We can go from the entertainment factor including Buck Rogers, Starwars, Startrek, etc. We see the millions made from those movies. The old story is that mankind has always lusted after spacetravel since day one. How you connect this movie making to the actual scientific space program is one thing. You see who benefits in that light. Hollywood makes millions, people are entertained to the point of forming cults over the movies.
    Since the announcements on curtail of space programs, I have heard no average US citizen state any disappointment. Or any other response for that matter. All this stuff is way over the head of most people.
    There has never been any formal disclosure of the actual achievements of the space program. We have an International Space Station (or so we are told, I haven’t personally been there yet). Who benefits from that and why? We have orbiting spheres that “bounce” signals off the earth and back. TV? Internet? Phone? Surveillance? Big Brother? If I wanted to make a call from the USA to India to Surio, that call might “bounce” off of a small orbiting sphere. Or it could gurggle under the undersea cable. Maybe now of days the “bounce” is primary and the “gurggle” is a backup. Maybe mankind has benefited from the bounce.
    I really am of the opinion that the average bear could give a rolling rip about the “space program”. It has served it’s immediate purpose for entertainment and making of space era movies. The movies are less popular now as they have gotten too fantastic such as “Alien, I II and III or IV or ??? Now people are more interested in movies about people who get cut up with chain saws or tortured in some other unimaginable way.
    We did wind up with the Carl Sagan type people, and a whole lot of recorded data in books and other media.
    Then there is the UFO thing. I won’t go there in this writing. Surio will be glad of that!!!
    I don’t think anyone in my circles will care if we launch another rocket or not. Let’s just try and get our economy back and lessen the impacts all over the world!!!

  3. @ermine,
    An interesting observation on where the two authors are coming from. It hadn’t struck me as divergent or discordant enough to flag, but you have managed to explain why you see it very differently. Was a good read.

    I have other observations on the matter as well.

    Agreed that on one side, there are countries like India and China that are still pursuing a space flight programme. And this lends credit to what you say regarding the space programme still having some fire in its tail.

    But I submit that this is due to the ‘flaw’ of averages working to those countries’ benefit — i.e., the per capita energy consumption of India/China is much lower than USA/UK or other developed countries. Therefore, these nations can continue to shovel their resources into a manned space/unmanned space programme. One of the dirty secrets of the BRICS nations is that the urban populace piggy backs on the rural populace’s frugal, eco-friendly lifestyles and maintains a low carbon footprint “on average”. We all ought to be ashamed of this!

    Back to the topic, the US hasn’t got the privilege. The lifestyles and scale of a farmer’s operations in Kansas is gargantuan in comparison to a farmer in Vidharba or Shimoga. The USA farmer is dependent on a suburbia lifestyle like all of USA. An Indian farmer by contrast is self-sufficient by and large.

    The point I am trying to make is that the USA is really scrambling to ensure that most of its citizens maintain their status quo lifestyles.

    A shuttle is just a very expensive beast. The external tank (that orange thingy), which costs in the 100 millions to make and calibrate disintegrates after lauch and not reused! Also the shuttle doesn’t use “normal” fuel. There’s a lot of transformation of energy into LOx and LH before it can be used for a launch leading to inefficiency. I have a PPT on this tank if you are interested in looking at trivia.. ;-)

    Maybe all that energy might better serve their freight logistics to ship food around…..I think. Therefore, Greer put the two together I think.

    But having said all that, it is completely useless to speculate, because in terms of barrels of oil itself, the USA consumes around 20 million per day. And more than 70% is used in transportation. So maybe the energy is peanuts after all….

    Here’s an alternative….

    Remember the film “Russia House” with the quotes
    1. “How the f*** do you peddle an arms race when the only a**h*** you’ve got to race against is yourself?”
    2. And how about “people don’t like their rice bowls taken away from them” — a reference to defence contractors ruling the roost in Washington DC.

    Perhaps that is what happened. Realisation dawned. ;-) So maybe the two of you (Greer and yourself) are on to something at the same time, coming from different angles.

    But I have to acknowledge the pièce de résistance

    The West was built on conquering new places, it was the drive to subjugate, to win. It could never last on a finite world, and we hate the echo from the distant canyons, never coming back as clear.

    Bravo! A very beautiful line!

    Surio

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  4. @Buck Rogers, (My Spam-O-Rama meter kicked a fuss about that :-D)
    Many thanks for not dragging the UFOs into this. :-)

    > How you connect this movie making to the actual scientific space program is one thing. You see
    > who benefits in that light. Hollywood makes millions, people are entertained to the point of
    > forming cults over the movies.
    Actually, hat-tip to you as well. Now this is an excellent point. Very unique, just like ermine’s and coming from a totally different angle…. And there are several billions to be made here too!
    And thanks for bringing back memories of Capricorn One…. The crop dusting plane action scene was certainly interesting to young boys such as (Ahem!) me back then :-P

    > people are more interested in movies about people who get cut up with chain saws
    I could never figure that one too :-(

    > If I wanted to make a call from the USA to India to Surio
    It would be very nice of you to do that :-)

    > Maybe now of days the “bounce” is primary and the “gurggle” is a backup.
    > Maybe mankind has benefited from the bounce.
    Yes and No. Most communication, VOIP, and data transfer (this blog included) and businesses operate with the undersea cables. The “bounce” is predominantly for beaming “moving pictures” into all households to keep them hooked and vegetated to their respective sets.

    But you did highlight a very important point that both Jacob and I maintain. Our lives are not radically different to that of the 19th century Victorians at all…. Back then we had telegraphic cables and today we have telecomm cables. Overall, how we communicate hasn’t changed. We have replaced telegraph with twitter and SMS, and we have emails instead of letters.

    > We did wind up with the Carl Sagan type people,
    You mean it in a sarcastic way? I have only watched Cosmos of his, that was beamed into India. Maybe because it was filmed in India and he couldn’t find a concrete way to diss the fact that Hinduism had got the length of the Universe right (certainly by accident, was his dry quip L O L)

    > I really am of the opinion that the average bear could give a rolling rip about the “space program”.
    Beautiful. That remark reminded me of Aldo Leopolds’ writings. Thanks for that Herb.

    > I don’t think anyone in my circles will care if we launch another rocket or not
    Ironically, we are in danger of forming a cult ourselves in this matter, I think. :-D!

    Surio

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  5. OMG this post brought me back. Of course, my elementary school class watched the moon walk live, and every boy wanted to be an astronaut. I vividly recall losing interest when I saw a photo of astronauts receiving inoculations. I had a phobia about hypodermic needles. So that ended that career aspiration. (The fact that I am over 6″ tall and have been ever since about age 13 would have led to the same result.) The supreme irony is that my first “real” job, working in a hospital kitchen as a dishwasher, required several blood tests. It was only as a young adult that I realized the inescapability of needles.

    On the whole, whilst I recognize the ancilliary technological benefits that flowed from the space program; I have long felt that NASA is an expensive luxury we as Americans can no longer afford. The BRIC countries are welcome to the moon.

    Maus

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