Monday, August 6, 2012

Mars rover Curiosity landed safely

The Mars rover Curiosity landed safely on Mars early this morning. The rover weighs over one ton and is larger than a full-size American automobile (notice the two people standing at the left side of the photo, below). Congratulations are due to the people at NASA, JPL, and elsewhere who conceived, designed and executed this impressive mission.

Especially since the support they have been given is, well, inadequate, is the best word I can think of. Now, you might think that $2.5 billion is plenty of funding for anything, but keep in mind that 1) this mission is the very cutting edge of aerospace engineering and technology, and as I have explained a few times before, the development of new science and technology is the most important economic activity any society can undertake.

2) We face a massive cultural problem in the United States and the developed world, with every generation since the end of World War Two steeped in a pecuniary culture that is increasingly useless, destructive, and predatory. This pecuniary culture, as Veblen explained, promotes and rewards socially destructive economic behavior, such as usury, at the direct expense of economic behavior that actually creates wealth and builds a better future for society. NASA has been one of the precious few institutions in our society that encourages kids to think positively about science and technology.

3) $2.5 billion is a mere fraction of a second of trading in the completely useless torrent of financial trading of stocks, bonds, options, futures, swaps, and other financial derivatives which occurs each and every day. Just foreign exchange markets alone trade $4 trillion a day in currencies and derivatives based on currencies. Constricting this torrent of gambling and redirecting these flows of money and credit into economically productive activities - such as ameliorating and solving global climate change - is the issue that will decide whether humanity survives as a species in the next two decades. So $2.5 billion to deliver to Mars a hunk of metal that can move on its own, is just chump change compared to the mind-boggling waste, misallocation, and abuse of society's monetary and credit mechanisms by the banksters.

Obviously, there are no political leaders in America who understand these issues yet. How our political leaders handle this area of science and technology is a key marker of where humanity stands on the path of progress and survival. The Obama administration's record here is arguably even worse than Republicans. As the article on the Curiosity landing by notes, Obama's  2013 federal budget request in February forced NASA to abandon plans for follow-on planetary missions of similar scope and scale to Curiosity
This request cut NASA's planetary science efforts by 20 percent, from $1.5 billion this year to $1.2 billion next year, with further cuts expected in the coming years.

Much of this money will come out of the agency's Mars program, which sees its funding fall from $587 million this year to $360 million in 2013, and then to just $189 million in 2015.

In an plutocratic oligarchy, you really don't get any decent political choices. So, savor the triumphs that we are allowed. And safely placing a massive robotic probe on Mars is certainly one of those triumphs.

1 comment:

  1. For both postings today--this one about the R&D and science and engineering needed for big projects...both in sci-fi like space projects and new energy projects--it appears we have stumbled into a limitation of our world's leaders.

    World leaders meaning all of the guys with the money, because we are unable to advance without money. The money is smokingly stupidly being saved away at 1% returns instead of invested in our future.

    We already even have sufficient inventions and alternative space/green energy ideas (Lord knows we have tons of human resources idle and wishing they could work on such projects), but what is missing is the money to pursue them.

    We knew next to nothing about going to space before we launched NASA, little more than Jules Verne and Flash Gordon, but off we went.

    We knew less about how to effectively burn oil when we started using it left and right in all processes to run everything. It has only been in the last 15-20 years that home furnaces became 90% efficient, and they moved from coal to oil to gas over about 60+ years before that. We all know how bad car engines ran in the past compared to today.

    But we dove in, in both projects, private corporations and public government investments poured into both areas throughout our lifetime. How could we...because we taxed the rich. In 1960, here were no tea party hacks trying to push us back into 1880 technology; and Buckley/Vidal never debated the value of NASA, did they.

    And Americans had it so good, they got lazy and stupid. Preoccupied with sex and rock n roll and TV and movies and sports AND now with gambling away their hard earned cash, both in casinos and in the Wall Street casino.

    And that was bad enough in the masses, but what the heck happened with our so-called leaders? Creating bubble economy after bubble economy and confusing that with job creation and increased value?

    And 30+ years of cutting taxes have exposed the weaknesses of our corporate citizens, hasn't it. It isn't regulations that kill them, it is the 3 month vision they have for our future, which they rate with a bubbled-up stock price.

    But you all know this...the solution though is (1) for our oligarchy to wise up and invest in green and space again...or (2) they will continue to fall behind and be this rate, by China I suppose.