The test flight of Starship and the cosmic perspective
Howard Bloom: Starship will change the relationship between life and space.
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:
Mark your calendar! The Terasem Space Day Colloquium 2023 will be held on July 20, via Zoom, from 10am ET to 1pm ET. July 20 is the anniversary of the first human landing on the Moon. This Terasem Colloquium will explore long-term perspectives on human space expansion, and the intersections of human space expansion with highly imaginative, far-out concepts in science, philosophy, and politics.
I followed the Starship test mission like a week-long religious service. As my readers know, space expansion is part of my personal religion. Starship will hopefully take people to live on Mars one day, and therefore it is part of my numinous.
One has to prepare for a religious service. So this is what I did on the day (Sunday) before the first Starship launch attempt (Monday): first, I answered a journalist’s questions on related topics. Here is the interview.
Then I decided to take a virtual look at Starbase, the home of SpaceX’s Starship development and testing. Everyday Astronaut (aka Tim Dodd) has produced a Starbase tourist video with all information. There is also a text version with pictures. If you can't go there in person, this video is the next best thing. After watching the video and touring Starbase with Google Maps & Street View, I feel I’ve been there (but I still want to go there in person one day).
Tim recommends Cosmic Perspective, a great initiative to “inspire hope and excitement for the future, unify the world through awe and wonder, and to archive for history what it is like to live in this time as humanity takes its first steps towards immortality into the stars.”
It goes without saying that I’ve joined the Cosmic Perspective community. I’ve watched their video “Road to Mars Episode 1” and look forward to experiencing the Cosmic Perspective VR productions.
I’ve found a gem on the Cosmic Perspective YouTube channel: the recording (short version, full version) of a “Lecture on Space Ages” given by legendary science fiction author Ray Bradbury in 1968. In the lecture Bradbury elaborates on spaceflight as a religious movement:
“The space-age gives us a chance to recreate ourselves in new terms, with new symbologies. We are in the business of creating the mythology that fits our time… We're part of a long effort of the universe to understand itself. This blind thing turning in its sleep, you're part of that blindness coming awake… that's what space travel is all about…”
“We find Ray's philosophy to be deeply moving,” reads the description of the video. “It's time these ideas and this philosophy reach a broader audience... this is our responsibility and our mission. It's the core of what Cosmic Perspective is all about.”
This cosmic perspective is also my own cosmic perspective, and part of what Turing Church is about!
I’ve saved the raw transcript of the full lecture generated by YouTube on Google Drive, and I’ll try to find the time to produce a well formatted text version.
In an interview, Bradbury further elaborated on his cosmic theology. We are here to assist God, who needs our help. Bradbury cites Nikos Kazantzakis’s book “The saviors of God” (1944). Note to Ray’s ghost: I’ve read the book!
Related: Ray Bradbury’s play “Leviathan 99” (BBC Radio). Bradbury later published a novella based on the play. The play and the novella include a powerful cosmic theology sermon delivered by a priest who had been uploaded to a robot (“they computerized his soul”).
On the day of the first launch attempt (Monday 17) I first watched Tim’s “Starship Q&A and Prelaunch Party!!!” Then I watched Tim’s live stream and the SpaceX live stream.
The Monday 17 launch was scrubbed due to a technical issue and rescheduled to Thursday 20. Before Thursday I watched many related videos and read “The Elon Musk Blog Series: Wait But Why” (2016) by Tim Urban. After reading his political manifesto “What's Our Problem?: A Self-Help Book for Societies” (2023), I count Urban among my favorite writers. “The Elon Musk Blog Series” is dated, but Urban explains with his trademark crystal clarity what SpaceX is doing and why it is really (really really) important. I hope Urban will write an updated version.
On Thursday 20 I watched Tim’s live stream and the SpaceX live stream.
The launch was awesome. Starship went 40 km up attached to the Super Heavy booster, after which there was “a rapid unscheduled disassembly” (yes, it want out with a bang).
But “SpaceX employees watching the launch at the company’s Hawthorne, California, headquarters cheered, celebrating the progress made on the flight,” Space News reports. “This was a development test. This was the first test flight of Starship,” said SpaceX’s John Insprucker in the webcast. “The goal was to gather the data and, as we said, clear the pad and get ready to go again.”
Congratulations to Elon Musk and SpaceX for getting this far! The next test flight should take place in a few months. I look forward to seeing Starship reach orbit, lunar orbit, the Moon, and eventually Mars. This test flight was history in the making, and Starship will be a game-changer.
“Starship will make possible entire ecosystems in space,” says Howard Bloom. “And, to repeat, it will change the relationship between the grand enterprise of life and the space above our heads.” Howard goes on to explain why “NASA’s entire Artemis program can be deep-sixed in favor of Starship trips direct to the moon and back, thousands of them. For a sliver of the cost.”
I don’t disagree (Howard is one of my heroes - listen to our last chat on space expansion and more), but my own attitude is less antagonistic. SpaceX fans should be patient: if the Artemis program is successful, and if the next test flights of Starship are successful, then the time for Starship will come. NASA and SpaceX should support each other, and we space enthusiasts with a cosmic perspective should support both.
Bradbury in Bradbury Speaks:
People ask me where my science fiction or fantasy will be taking me in the coming years. I believe that the whole outreach of science-fiction writers in the near future must be in a religious relationship with the universe. It was first indicated in that landmark film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, when, in the final scenes, we scan the heavens to see the arrival of the mother ship, which is really an entire city from across the universe.
The scene is reminiscent of the encounter between God and Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, when God reaches down to touch and Adam reaches up to touch, and the spark leaps the gap.
So it is that we fantasy writers must look to the universe and give reasons for revisiting the Moon, heading for Mars, and moving out toward the cosmos.
Space travel to me answers the age-old question: What are we doing here? What is life all about? Where are we going?
George Bernard Shaw, many years ago, believed that the human race was headed in a direction that it could not quite comprehend but would nevertheless hurl ourselves headlong into that unplumbed future.
My own belief is that the universe exists as a miracle and that we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?
We are that audience.
We are here to see and touch, describe and move. Our job, then, is to occupy ourselves with paying back the gift. This must be at the center of the stories, novels, and films that we fantasy writers create tomorrow.
When we first landed on the Moon on that night in July 1969, I was asked to appear on The David Frost Show.
I eagerly accepted because I wanted to explain that space travel was about mankind’s possible immortality.
I tend to agree - Artemis gets public buy-in to space, and that paves the way for commercial contracts. SLS/Orion helps enable Starship to pick up the baton and move forward.