Christopher and I are at Starbucks. I’m wondering who I can interview. It is a question that is constantly on my mind (until I do it for the day). Then I see Brandy. I know her. She’s Carter’s mom. Carter is in Christopher’s class. They did cub scouts together. And easy person to ask.
Watching the video, I notice that no one at that starbucks is wearing a mask. How much the world would change in the next 3 months. Now it is not possible to sit inside of the starbucks and to enter it you must have a mask.
Also, thinking over the past year, I think I interviewed at least 4 people at that starbucks. And I think in the next year I would probably interview a lot more.
Brandy had not heard that we were planning to send people back to the moon in 2024. She things it is “Very Cool. About Time!” “It was Great for the Country the first time. And it would be great for the country the second time.” Carter always looks at the space stuff, but not sure if he knows. But iti definitely means that he was not excited enough about it to talk to his family about it in an exciting thing. I think one avenue to spread the knowledge and the excitement is through the schools. Every school child should know that we are going back to the moon. They should be excited about it. and they should know that they have a chance to go. So excited about it that they talk to their parents, friends, and family about it. Then most people would know.
Brandy would not personally go to space. She is “a chicken” she says. But she would encourage others to go.
She is not so sure there is much more to learn on the moon. I think this is where we need to be able to talk some more. In some respects we treat the moon as something that is already known, already explored. But in reality we have not explored much of it. Some say that we know more about the moon than the deep seas. But is that really true? And how would we measure this knowledge to compare it in a realistic way?
What is good about going to the moon? It brought us all together that first time. But will it really do it the second time? The Covid lockdowns brought us together in probably a more profound way than a moon landing could.
Will they make the 2024 landing. “Pretty likely. Could do it today if they wanted to.”
Noe had invited me to speak at the Citizen Science group he has put together. I talked about the North Houston Space Society. My mom and wife came. Gary was one of the participants. He had worked on the shuttle system. He was not familiar with NASA’s plans to put people back on the moon. He had heard something vague, and was thinking that maybe the private sector was overtaking NASA.
He thinks the fact that it was 1972 since we last went was awful. And would like to see more money go into exploration. Why are we spending 1/3 of our national budget on the military and less than 1% on NASA. In fact, he saw a statistic that we spend more money on video games each year than NASA.
What do we need to do to get people excited about it? For him, nothing. He is excited by nature. And he has heard people say that we should “work on controlling diseases instead of going to space”. At this citizen science meeting Covid was not on anybody’s mind. And I wonder what Gary thinks about that now.
Karthik went to school with my son Stephen in elementary and middle school. They have stayed in touch. Karthik at the time of this interview was finishing up his last year at Rice University, the same place that JFK gave the famous “We choose to go to the moon” speech. It is also the school of the current NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine. Jim had come and visited the school a couple of times in 2019. And it was under Jim’s leadership that the 2024 date was announced.
Karthik had not heard about NASA plans to send people back to the moon. He wishes that there was more talks and presentations about it at the university. And I know there have been a few, but it is interesting that the information did not make it out to the wider student audience. Even in a place like Rice University there are information bubbles. Mainly because there is so much going on that students and faculty have to choose what to keep track of just to remain sane. But there needs to be better mechanisms to have broader explorations of topics.
Karthik wonders “What kind of mission is this?” which is another way to ask “What do we plan to get out of it?” This is a fair question. One we really should do some thinking about. I like to think of our trips into space being like the voyages in the age of discovery. But I am not sure they can compare.
This week I’m reading “The Worldly Philosophers” by Robert L. Heilbroner. I came across this passage (p.35)
Be it noted, in passing, that the treasures of the East were truly fabulous. With the share received as a stockholder in Sir Francis Drake’s voyage of the Golden Hund, Queen Elizabeth paid off all England’s foreign debts, balanced its budget, and invested abroad a sum large enough, at compound interest, to account for Britain’s entire overseas wealth in 1930!“The Worldly Philosophers” by Robert L. Heilbroner p.35
The voyages in the age of discovery MADE MONEY. People directly benefited from them. Will our voyages to the moon do the same? What do we hope to get out of it.
We need to make space exploration economically viable. Lowering the cost is just one part of that equation. The other part is finding a source of value in going. Tourism is a natural thing. Getting moon rocks might be too. But if we had something of value on the moon, the other pieces will fall into place.
For many of us, going to space is an end to itself. Like some people going to a sports contest. Or eating breakfast. But for the vast majority of it, either we get them directly involved in that vision, or we have to show how it is worth it in direct and concrete ways.
Sonia and I were taking tennis lessons last year at Giammalva racquet club. I saw Roopa and Venky there. They were waiting for their son to finish tennis lessons. Venky didn’t want to do an interview (I hope he changes his mind in the next 4 years), but Roopa was willing.
One of the striking things about the interview with Roopa was the reverence for nature and the disdain for humanity. Roopa expressed a clear view that nature is good and humanity changing nature is bad. “Humans are needy and greedy”. “There is no depth to what humans can do” “Somethings should remain mysterious.”
I wonder where these views come from. What causes us to think that changes are bad. That progress is not possible. That humanity will always choose to consume, exploit, and destroy.
Roopa does not think humanity should expand out to space. Keep space for nature and earth for humanity.
The idea of using space to protect the earth is not something that Roopa found worthwhile.
I wonder how many people share these views. What can we learn from them? How can we address them?
Matt works at United Flight Systems where I was taking flying lessons pre-Covid lockdowns. He had heard that we were planning to go to the moon in 2024 from me, but was kind of aware that this is the direction that NASA was heading.
He is a little skeptical of the 2024 timeframe. “Governments move at different speeds” and he agrees that programs like the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) where companies figure out how to deliver a service that NASA buys has the potential to make things faster and cheaper.
Matt is excited to see NASA have ambitious goals. He wants to see them do something inspiration. Something difficult. Something that advances all of us. Government wastes so much money. It would be better for them to do something that inspires.
It was late in the day. I had not found anyone to interview. It was time to ask a family member and Stephen was graciously enough to interview.
Highlights from the interview.. “If we could spend that money on…” And that is the problem with the NASA budget. I think people see it as a large number, and it is a large number. But when compared to other things, it becomes quite a bit smaller. And the human spaceflight part is about half of NASA’s budget. And about half of that goes to ISS and related operations.
What value do we get from space exploration?
I had talked to one person that suggested if living in space could make you live longer or be younger than that would motivate people to go to space. Unfortunately, it seems to do just the opposite.
My wife and in-laws go to a monthly “pooja”. It is a Hindu prayer meeting and a great time to reconnect with friends. It is held at a different person’s house each month. Last year, I had gone. It was a great opportunity to meet people and maybe get on of them to participate in my project.
Nataraja and I used to work together at HP. I was happy that he was willing to sit down and talk about it.
He is one of the few people that had heard about us returning to the moon. He is interested in space exploration and says that one of the ways he stays informed is through the information I have been posting on Facebook.
His two children were interested in space exploration in elementary school. But like most children those interests fade to be replaced by other interests.
My younger son, Christopher, had been going to Coach David’s tennis classes for over a decade. Sonia and I both went to pick him up this time. I see our friend Meenakshi in the background talking to Sonia in the interview.
Kennedy was there and I struck up a conversation with him. He had been in the military. He takes yearly vacations to Thailand. And I remember it being a good conversation.
Kennedy in our conversation brings up two issues that will need to be addressed if we are going to become a space faring civilization with wide support.
First, “What new thing do we hope to discover on the moon that we did not discover in 1969.” This idea of space been about “firsts” and “achievement” needs to be shifted to “development” and “exploration” and “discovery”. But I think we need to put more of the emphasis on the “development of space infrastructure”. We need to create this compelling vision of humanity moving out into the solar system.
And perhaps it is not something that is possible to do with words. I think the idea of the space economy that some people envision will not be understood until after it happens. “Work with the willing” is a phrase we need to keep in mind. We should try to make the vision compelling and accessible. But at the same time, we need to be careful not to get in a situation where we feel we need everyone to buy into. What we need is to get enough to buy into it that it actually happens. Once it happens than the masses will be better able to understand it and support it. Until then it just feels like science fiction.
But one thing we must not do is undermine that future by emphasizing “one time goals”. Tell people it is about development and discovery. Tell them it is about exploration and about training to go further. But don’t tell them it is about simply “getting the first woman on the moon”. We will do that, and do it quickly. It is something that should have been done. But let us not use that to rally support. Because that support will turn into an obstacle, just as soon as that goal is met. “We got the first woman on the moon. Now let’s shut down the program.” We do not want to set ourselves up for this.
We are going to the moon as a “step into the future” … a future were humans travel the solar system like they voyage the globe. A future where humans can choose to live where ever they want. A future were the earth is protected from industrialization, but where humanity is unrestrained and can move forth.
The second issue that I noticed in Kennedy’s responses was the idea “We messed up the earth and we will just mess up the moon too.”. I will hear this idea many times over the coming year. I do not remember it as early as Kennedy’s interview. I thought it was an interview later in January. But it is something that comes up.
We humans are ashamed of ourselves. But we feel powerless to change it. And we do not want it to inconvenience ourselves. We want to become better for free. We think the problem with humanity is the other guy. We think “if only they would…” But humanity is all of us. Every injustice that any human does is the responsibility of all humans to some extent. And we need to continuously work to improve ourselves and to create the conditions that cause those around us to grow and to improve themselves. We need to sit down and learn to have dialog. We need to focus our energies on actually addressing and solving problems rather than our pastime of politics and economics. Betting on companies is less useful than creating them. Politics is less important than working with our neighbors to make our streets and neighborhoods better places.