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news & opinion with no titillating non-news from the major non-news channels.


I am: progressive, not a wild-eyed Progressive; liberal, but shun liberals and Liberals; conservative, but some Conservatives worry me; absolutely NOT a libertarian. I am: an idealist, but no utopian; a pragmatist, but no Machiavellian. I am a realist who dreams.


I welcome all opinions.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Welcome Home, Discovery.
   Where's the gold?

This morning NPR broadcast live the chatter from Mission Control as Discovery cruised over the Pacific on its way to Edwards for landing. It has been a long time since NASA got this kind of live publicity. Reminiscent of the total lack of enthusiasm for Apollo 13, until it became a real possibility they weren't coming back.

Ah, the heyday of space travel.

Back when there really was a Space Race, it felt like 1492 all over again. A New Age of Exploration, opening vast uncharted frontiers. The excitement at the port waiting for news was thicker than a London fog.

The climactic moment of Apollo 11 was eclipsed only by the anticlimax of waning public interest and NASA's wild attempts to keep a public interested in *yawn* more moon rocks and international *yawn* cooperation with *yawn* Skylab.

The problem was that while NASA was very good at technomagic, self-absorbed in its engineering utopia, it didn't understand public relations and motivation. "Spinoff" technologies spun right down the ol' PR drain.

What we needed was not a Christopher Kraft* at the helm, but a Christopher Columbus.

Columbus pried loose the financing he needed from Spain's monarchs with promises of wealth and power, coined in spices. He played on their greed and avarice as mercilessly as a top-notch Madison Avenue con man and when he failed to deliver after the first two voyages, he kept interest up with grandiose claims of fabulous gold. Feeding the slave trade didn't hurt either.

But Isabel and Fernando were accountable to no one. Hock the jewels, if necessary. As a democracy, we have a hard time sustaining momentum on intangibles. Bread, butter and guns have a physicality that pipe dreams in space just can't measure up to. Theoretical strategic concerns like the High Ground, the Holy Grail of command and control, are just too esoteric and theoretical for mass consumption. What we need is to bring back some gold.

And gold there is. And just about everything else you can imagine, from rare earth minerals hundreds of times more valuable than gold to more iron and nickel (steel) than we could use in a thousand years. And energy resources the size of planets. Enough to herald the Second Coming and One Thousand Years of Peace and Prosperity for all.

And it is all on a first come, first serve basis.

In the wake of the successful failure of Discovery, the shuttle program has again been grounded. And it may not ever take off again. Rep. Barney Frank, that rapscallion, is trumpeting the same tired old songs and dances that were so effective in shutting down Apollo.

Let's not spend another tens of billions of dollars ... at the expense of health care, social security and numerous other social programs on Earth.

Anyway, NASA is pushing to have a replacement for the shuttle by 2010, and President Bush has previously voiced support for a return to the moon by 2020.

Meanwhile, China is not so quietly planning a round-the-moon jaunt in 2006.

China recognizes the strategic value of the high ground, at least in the context of regaining Taiwan. China cannot risk an amphibious assault across the Straits of Taiwan, 90 miles of open water separating the two Chinas, without dealing with the eyes in the sky and our US Naval carriers out in the deep blue.

It would be a blessed turkey shoot.

But once China gets a toehold in space, once it can blind our surveillance satellites at will and drop missles, rocks, garbage, whatever on our carrier groups from 100 miles straight up, it won’t stop with Taiwan. Why should it?. It is expensive just getting up there and the value of the high ground is immense, much more than control over just the skies and seas of the Straits. Once there, any place on Earth is just a puddle jump. Or as the Swiss were always fond of doing, shoving rocks from the top of the mountains.

And China isn't fettered by public opinion.

Japan woke the sleeping dragon to its peril in 1941; the Soviet Union did the same in 1958 with Sputnik. Let's hope Chinese hubris allows it to make the same mistake; before the door slams shut on us.

*Mr. Kraft did a remarkable job during the Space Race, from 1958 to 1982. The name just flows well with the point I am making. Werner von Braun doesn't. Apologies to Mr. Kraft.


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