NASA is going back to the Moon
Also, review of "Escaping Gravity" by Lori Garver, and other spaceflight meditations.
Greetings to all readers and subscribers, and special greetings to the paid subscribers!
Please scroll down for the main topic of this newsletter. But first let me say that the recent Time Magazine piece titled “Elon Musk Is Convinced He's the Future. We Need to Look Beyond Him” is full of BS.
“Kim Stanley Robinson... has called Musk’s plan 'the 1920s science-fiction cliché of the boy who builds a rocket to the moon in his backyard' and one that’s dangerously distracting us from the real problems we face here on Earth.”
This blah blah blah was already boring the first time I heard it, but hearing it piously repeated all the time is really annoying. Give me the science-fiction clichés of the 1920s anytime, instead of the dull & boring clichés of the early 2020s! But hopefully the rest of the 2020s will be different (see below).
Like him or not (and of course he has his flaws like the rest of us), Elon is pulled upwards by powerful cosmic forces that want humanity to expand beyond the Earth into the solar system and then among the stars. This is more important than all the Time Magazine piece says. See my love letter to Elon in three parts:
“The Martian government was directed by ten men, the leader of whom was elected by universal suffrage for five years and entitled ‘Elon.’”
Coincidence, or a small leak through time from our awesome interplanetary future?
Review of “Escaping Gravity” (2022), by Lori Garver
I didn’t like the rumors I heard some time ago that former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver wanted NASA to abandon human spaceflight and refocus on climate science. I guess the rumors were triggered by Garver’s 2019 Washington Post op-ed “Forget new crewed missions in space. NASA should focus on saving Earth” (a very misleading title). See also this 2020 speech (YouTube) by Garver on the need to make climate science NASA’s top priority.
So I wasn’t inclined to read Garver’s new book “Escaping Gravity: My Quest to Transform NASA and Launch a New Space Age” (2022).
But then I decided to read the book and I was pleasantly surprised. This is a page turner that I didn’t want to put down. “Escaping Gravity” is a personal memoir but also a detailed story of the last few decades of spaceflight, including recent developments like the rise of SpaceX and the Artemis lunar program, told by a very opinionated insider with some axes to grind.
Garver is a liberal, but also a free thinker with some libertarian leanings. She seems to sincerely admire both Barack Obama and Elon Musk. This is a refreshing change from those dogmatic ideologues who love one of the two but hate the other. The book, and recent talks like this one, show that Garver has always been and continues to be a space enthusiast committed to human spaceflight and future space expansion.
However, Garver thinks NASA should do much more to fight climate change. She believes that, at this moment, climate science is more important than sending astronauts back to the Moon and then to Mars and beyond, and NASA’s mission should reflect this.
I disagree. I think NASA’s main mission is, and must remain, human spaceflight to the Moon and the planets.
But Garver’s main point is that NASA should stop wasting money on obsolete “dinosaurs” like the Space Launch System (SLS), and fully embrace the new ways of doing things developed by commercial players like Blue Origin and SpaceX. Garver takes credit for the first successful steps in this direction, but believes NASA should do more. She says:
I tend to agree with Garver on this point. The money saved could be reused for other things, including climate science. If Garver is right, and I think she is, that NASA could do much more with the same money, then we could have both human spaceflight to the Moon and climate science. Conquering Mars AND saving the Earth. In Garver’s words:
“A reformed NASA can be the rising tide that lifts all boats.”
Of course, implementing Garver’s proposal is challenging because the “wasted” dollars are really used to engineer the necessary political support by keeping large aerospace contractors and their friends in politics happy. Garver, who seems to know (by experience) everything about space politics, is well aware of this, but perhaps underestimates the challenge and criticizes NASA’s realpolitik too much.
We are going!
The planned launch date for Artemis 1 is August 29, with September 2 and 5 as backup options. Space Coast hotels here are filling up for the Artemis 1 launch, “and 100,000 visitors are expected to watch NASA's mega moon rocket launch on Aug. 29.”
That so many people are so enthusiastic for a test mission without astronauts on board may seem odd. But we-the-people want to be there for the inauguration of Artemis because we really want to see the Artemis program - the new Apollo program of the 2020s - unfold and eventually bring people back to the Moon.
The 2020s could be another magic spaceflight decade like the 1960s of Apollo. Even more, because this time we want to go to the Moon and stay, sustainably and permanently. And then Mars. Apollo was a false start, but Artemis could be the real start.
Artemis 2 will bring astronauts to orbit around the Moon for the first time since 1972. Artemis 3 will land astronauts on the Moon, perhaps in 2025 (or more likely, if you ask me, two or three years later, but hopefully before the end of the decade).
A recent press release announces that NASA has identified 13 candidate landing regions near the lunar South Pole. The press release ends with:
“Through Artemis, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon, paving the way for a long-term, sustainable lunar presence and serving as a steppingstone for future astronaut missions to Mars.”
Some are criticizing this genuflection to political correctness. Not me: I will cheer the Artemis 3 astronauts, period, whatever their gender or color. NASA understands that inclusivity can increase support for Artemis, and this is smart realpolitik.
To me THE important thing is that we go back to the Moon to stay, then outward to Mars and the planets to become a multi-planetary species. If embracing “wokeness” is needed to achieve more public and political support for NASA, so be it. As far as I am concerned, NASA should feel free to send only women of color to the Moon.
Engineering political support by keeping large aerospace contractors and their friends in politics happy is also smart realpolitik.
Lori Garver (see above) and many thinkers I respect, such as Howard Bloom, criticize NASA for wasting too much money on obsolete technologies and practices instead of betting on the leaner and cheaper alternative that Elon Musk’s SpaceX is developing.
But what good does saying this do now?
I'm both a space fundamentalist and agnostic. I’m a fundamentalist because to me getting started with space expansion is THE important issue at this moment in history. I’m an agnostic because I don't really care how: government, private sector, civilian, military, Biden, Trump, Musk, the US, China... all is welcome and good if it helps getting started on the way to expand humanity into the solar system and beyond.
Let NASA inaugurate the return to the Moon. Let NASA have fun with its expensive rockets, and let’s praise NASA for what is still an impressive achievement.
I was persuaded that the Biden administration would cancel the Artemis program long before Artemis 1, so the fact that Artemis 1 is on the launch pad is very good news. VERY good news. After a successful Artemis 1 mission, killing the program will be difficult. Kudos to NASA and to the Biden administration!
Artemis 1 to 3 will prepare the way for sustainable and permanent human presence on the Moon and Mars. This opens the road, and Elon Musk will likely leap ahead at some point - once Starship is operational, it will be difficult to justify spending much more for what can be done much cheaper. Meanwhile, let the government waste some more billions. It isn't like they aren't wasting much more money on other things.
The sacred road to the stars
I realize that this may sound disrespectful to some believers, and I apologize to them. But watching important spaceflight milestones gives me the same sense of transcendent elation that many believers find in churches and temples.
I believe powerful cosmic forces pull us upwards, to walk what I have called the sacred road to the stars. Out there, we’ll meet God-like beings and eventually we’ll become God-like ourselves. We’ll be cosmic engineers, remake the universe, and resurrect the dead. See my books “Tales of the Turing Church” and “Futurist spaceflight meditations.”
Space expansion is a cornerstone of Turing Church. Watching the beginnings of space expansion as they happen is my Turing Church ritual.
Try it: watch the launch of Artemis 1 and touch the cosmic forces that pull humanity upwards. Feel that you are part of a big powerful wave that is going to the stars and beyond. Hear the voice of God (by any name) calling YOU from infinity. God wants you to participate in the beginnings of our cosmic destiny. Then be happier, and do something good.
I hope to post next week another picture of me attending Mass, that is, watching the successful launch of Artemis 1. In a few weeks, I hope to post another picture of me watching the splashdown of the spacecraft after a successful mission.