Over the course of the past year, I reconnected with many people I had not talked to in decades. And I asked people questions that I do talk to regularly, that I probably never talked about as directly or systematically.
Akash is a long time family friend. He and my oldest son Stephen had gone through elementary and middle school together. Akash attended the “Electronics camp for middle schoolers” back in 2010 that I did when I left HP to go focus on ISpeakHindi.com. He is now at UPenn and Stephen is at CMU. But we stay in touch and all see each other probably about a dozen times a year. Though when the Kumashi family lived in Gleannloch where we all met, it would have been multiple times a week.
This was my 3rd interview with my Countdown to the Moon project. I do not remember the occasion for Akash coming over. Stephen was in town and they wanted to meet. I am sure I told Akash something like “Hey, I’m doing this project to interview a person a day till the end of 2024. Can I interview you?” and he said “Sure”.
I hope that these interviews serve as nice reminders of our friendship and our times together, though I know it captures just a little small fragment of our relationships and the people who we are. It is a like a collection of portrait paintings of all the people in ones life, but in a specific style. The “What do you think about the future of humanity in space” style.
Some snippets from the conversation:
A: “No specific thoughts. great step towards achieving adversity (first woman on the moon) other than that, “I don’t know”
A: “needs more context” what is the purpose.. is it just to set a precedent.
N: “ISS – 1998 ISS continuously inhabited. Never a day without people in space
If you come back 500 years, where are we? Are we still on the earth fighting over limited raw materials.
Or have we branched out into the rest of the solar system…”
A “I look at a lot of these goals of NASA with a slight bit of skepticism that need to be solved first before we spend a lot of money to go do asteroid mining. A lot of problems could be solved with a lot of fewer resources than going to space?”
N “What problems do you think we can solve that going to the moon is keeping us?”
A “the common denominator is money. Money spent on NASA is money that can’t be spent on other things.”
We have the technology and resources to
“What is the benefit of colonizing the solar system might be? If you did a cost/benefit analysis. Would it balance out?”
“What is really money? What produces solutions?”
N: “By actually looking at the earth from Space can give us a better perspective of how finite and vulnerable our world is. What would be the effect of that “
A: “We have to make it cheaper. Need more information about what resources are in the solar system”
N: “Are there other ways that we mis-spend money?”
A: “I’m not fully informed about all the ways the government uses the money. But I have to do research to see.”
N: “What about nuclear weapons?”
A: “oh sure”
N: “We spend more money on refreshing our nuclear arsenal than we do on NASA”
N: Where will you be in 2024?
A: That is such a philosophical question
N: Will be celebrating
A: I didn’t know about it until you brought it up. I might see it with some of my friends.
Some thoughts on the conversation.
Emphasizing landing the first woman on the moon makes people think that is the sole point. And it will be a great milestone to reach. But we should emphasize the space development. “In 2024 we will return to the surface of the moon to begin to more deeply understand it and the history it has preserved, to begin develop and test resources and technology that will let us get more value out of the moon and to travel deeper into space, and to discover the unknown which could have a significant impact on the future of humanity here on earth.” Those are the reasons we need to figure out how to boil down to a soundbite. Because “Landing the first woman and the next moon” may be concise, it is shallow reason.
Especially when you consider one of those “Things that can be solved here on earth with less resources” is finding blood donors for patients with thalassemia that need it. I interviewed Syed Muniem yesterday, and this was one of the causes he is champing. He tells a story of when he was in college. A father desperate to save his 8 year old daughters life was going around the campus looking for potential blood donors. Syed talks to him and finds out the daughter has type A+ blood, and Syed is willing to get tested and finds he has O+ blood, a compatible blood donor. Syed gives the blood and the daughter lives.
Several months later Syed runs into the father again. “How is your daughter?” “She died” “How come?” “She needed a blood transfusion but I could not find a donor” He had tried to locate Syed but did not have the number, and could not find him on campus. This event affected Syed deeply and he is working on raising awareness of thalassemia and encouraging people to donate blood.
Would the money spent on SLS/Orion be enough to cure thalassemia ? Would it have been enough to develop an cure? Or perhaps artificial blood? Not sure what it would take there. But surely it would have been enough to create a network to connect blood donors to people that need it.
And it is a false choice of SLS/Orion verses curing thalassemia. I’d rather cancel some weapons systems. Or figure out someway that we could do both.
I think we waste a lot of time in allocating resources. The resources that are spent on affecting the allocating of resources should be spent on solving problems. Creating a website to connect blood donors to recipients seems like weekend work for someone writing an addon for Facebook or twitter. Promoting and keeping it running seems like it could be done with volunteers.
Ultimately we must remember “money” doesn’t do anything. It does not solve anything. What solves problems is people. People working on problems. People trying to solve them. You can spend all the money you want, and without the people actually doing things to solve it, it will not matter. And if you could get the people without the money, then you can still solve the problem.
Douglas Adams summed it up nicely in his opening paragraphs to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: