Saturday, January 15, 2022

Whitey on the Moon

A tearful William Shatner (yes, of Captain Kirk fame) bleats on about something while vulture capitalist Jeff Bezos daydreams of tearing into Shatner's soft flesh.  On October 13, 2021, the 90-year-old Canadian actor rode on Bezos's Blue Origin flying machine to sub-orbital space.  Thus, Shatner became the oldest person to not quite do what Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin first did more than 60 years earlier. 
Thee Optimist is a fan of space.

How could he not be?  For thousands of years, space has captured the imagination of countless humans, and Thee Optimist is a human. 

For a little over half a century, humanity has even managed to dick around with actually going to space.  But let's be clear about what we're doing.  We are dicking around.

The latest example of this has been the penchant of the vastly wealthy billionaire bubblehead class to build half-assed space machines that take tourists high into the sky, into what is technically considered outer space, but is not actually in orbit around our own planet.

It's fun, I suppose, as far as mindless entertaining distractions go.  But a little goes a long way.  

It reminds me of a song I like, and so I am thankful for that.  The song is Whitey on the Moon, released by Gil Scott-Heron in 1970.  It's about how Whitey is dicking around in space while everything falls to shit here on Earth.   

Time passes, and everything changes.  And somehow everything remains the same. 

I'm going to post the song here for your listening pleasure.   

"We're" Not Going Anywhere
Depending on your sense of humor, the most entertaining part of all this is that the various billionaires involved seem to think that dicking around in space is somehow going to get us off this rock before we finish making it uninhabitable.

Or maybe they think they'll get off and leave the rest of us here.  Personally, I wouldn't complain if every billionaire on Earth did shuffle off, all at once.  I'd even help them, if it were feasible.

But it isn't, not for them, and not for us.  You see, we evolved to live on Earth.  It is the perfect environment for us.  In fact, it's the only environment for us.  

Bad things immediately start to happen when we leave our home planet for any length of time.  These include anemia, bone loss (at a rate of 1 to 1.5% of bone density per month in space), muscle atrophy, exposure to toxic radiation, dehydration, negative changes to the immune system, and psychiatric disorders from living in tightly enclosed spaces.

These and other problems have been studied extensively, and few to no workable long-term solutions have been developed.  Naturally, the issue tends to be glossed over by hopeful space wayfarers. 

"We'll figure it out!  Remember how we got a handle on that Covid problem?"


Further, humans going to Mars, for example, would have to bring enough food and water to feed, hydrate, and at least occasionally bathe them.  At the moment, the fastest a spaceship can make it from Earth to Mars is about 7 months.   

Sounds to Thee Optimist like a one way trip, which arrives at its destination with a bunch of dead guys on board.

It also supposes that technological civilization is going to continue on with no setbacks.  That's a whale of an assumption.

Billionaire space cadet Richard Branson winning ugly during a Virgin Galactic sub-orbital flight. "Galactic."  Could there be a more grotesquely optimistic name for something that doesn't reach orbit?  

What if They Did Make It?  

Okay, that's fun.

Suppose a group of simian meatbags did make it to Mars.  Suppose they hung around for a bit, and even managed to take off again and make their way back to Earth alive.

It would be the greatest engineering feat in the history of the human race.  The people who did it would positively dwarf that time Bruce Jenner won the Olympics and wound up on the cover of the Wheaties box.

But what would it prove, exactly, and what practical use would it be?  

On February 3, 1966, the uncrewed Russian spacecraft Luna 9 became the first launch to successfully land on the moon.  Three years later, on July 20, 1969, the United States Apollo 11 became the first crewed spacecraft to land on the moon.

These were (and remain) amazing feats.  But on December 7, 1972, Apollo 17 landed on the moon, and since then no human being has been back.  

Human spaceflight has gone exactly nowhere in nearly 50 years.  Meanwhile, conditions here on the home planet have continued to deteriorate, and ever more rapidly.

Even if a handful of hardy explorers somehow make it to Mars and back, it will have no bearing on what happens to the nearly 8 billion souls here on Earth.

Space exploration is interesting.  It's an interesting distraction from real world problems.

But it's a sideshow.  The main event is figuring out how to save this planet, and save ourselves.

Artist's rendering of the unmanned spaceship Voyager One, which left Earth on September 5, 1977, and is the most distant man-made object in the universe, approximately 14 billion miles from here.  The future of space exploration is likely unmanned, robotic, and increasingly, artificially intelligent. 

Words of Wisdom

"Geez, all that money we waste on space exploration; just think how many bombs that would buy!"  - Craig Bruce


  1. True. All true. When I ask why we're spending all this money on space instead of on human needs here on Earth, no one has answered this to my satisfaction.
    BTW, thank you for clarifying that "Thee Optimist is a human." This is a relief to me (knowing this blog is not written by AI) and makes me feel a connection with said human.

    1. It might be good if billionaires were not relied upon to think of ways to squander resources. Invariably what they come up with are things that are pleasing to billionaires.

      That said, back in the day, the military-industrial technocrats of the Soviet Union and the United States got to decide how to squander precious resources, and the best they could do was gigantic weapon systems capable of destroying all life on Earth, many times over.

      Maybe artists and poets should be the ones to decide upon the squandering of resources? It would probably be no less dumb, but likely more fun for more people, and relatively benign in its stupidity.