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Reflections on a Mythic Voyager

Voyager 2 received commands in early November to switch to the backup set of thrusters that control the roll of the spacecraft. I keep close tabs on the Voyagers because, still operational, they constitute our first interstellar mission, headed beyond the heliosphere and still returning data. Launched in 1977, they’re an obvious example of long-term survival in space, an issue that will become increasingly visible as we plan for longer and deeper missions beyond our Solar System. We got word on November 5 that Voyager 2 has accepted the new commands.

Let’s talk about this first in terms of engineering. Behind the switch is the need to reduce operating power, for using the backup thruster pair that controls roll motion will let engineers turn off the heater that warms the fuel line to the primary thruster, saving about 12 watts of power. With Voyager 2’s power supply providing about 270 watts, finding savings like this can help the spacecraft remain operational. It’s remarkable to consider that the thrusters involved here have fired more than 318,000 times, while the backup pair has not yet been used in flight. Voyager 1 made a similar change in 2004 and is now using all three sets of its backup thrusters.

Sometimes when I read the relatively dry language of the status reports on Voyager my thoughts turn to ancient journeys that once defined out thinking. Pushing deep into the unknown evokes Homer to me, the journey of Odysseus and his crew on a ten year attempt to find their way home while running into all manner of mysteries, but of course there are mythic links to man’s innate urge to explore in many other cultures. Just making such connections seems like a romantic view of hard science, but why not? I just read Athena Andreadis’ short interview in SF Signal in which she talks about the uses of intuition in science, coupled with a ‘type of rigor and dedication usually associated with monastic orders.’ She goes on to liken scientists to wizards and ‘astrogators who never sleep,’ a direct nod to speculative fiction and its influence.

Andreadis knows all about hard science, of course. She’s a researcher in molecular neurobiology as well as being a cross-genre writer of considerable talent. We’re just coming off the Thanksgiving holiday here in the States and with the weekend approaching, I’m in a reflective mood anyway, so what Athena says about science has a fine resonance for me this morning, wrapping itself around the Voyager story and its interplay with the human need for journeying. Later in the interview, Charles Tan asked Andreadis whether the exploration of space was essential to the human future. The answer is a qualified yes, but one that takes into account our frequent over-estimation of our own destiny and the things we are capable of:

Space is inherently hostile to humans. People argue that humans have managed to overrun Earth and hence we can do the same beyond Earth, given advanced enough technology. However, we evolved here and even now, despite our technology, we are helpless before major planetary upheavals. The concept of going beyond our planet has a powerful hold on our imagination, for a good reason: we have a deep-rooted urge to explore, which is both a blessing and a curse. The challenges of crewed space expeditions are mind-boggling.

How true, and how often understated! But Andreadis believes in the attempt as part of that same urge for exploration that has seen ships embarking for ports unknown throughout our history:

Even so, I think it is indeed essential that we take to space at some point. Not for fortune or glory, but because we yearn for the next horizon. At the same time, we need to be deeply aware that we can never “conquer” space. The self-serving inanities of the Strong Anthropic Principle aside, triumphalism will avail us naught in a universe that is supremely indifferent to us and our aspirations.

In the poem ‘Mid-Journey,’ Andreadis writes in a way that calls up Homeric venturing and echoes (for me at least) Tennyson’s own Homeric reflections on getting older in ‘Ulysses’:

    How plucked and gutted is our bright youth!
    The gates of heaven stood open back then.
    Now, fatigue and demons track our trail.
    Within us and behind us, blood and darkness
    And for those who loved us, ruins and flames.

    Warmth and comfort are yokes for us.
    We chose thorns, shoals and starlight.
    We vowed ourselves irrevocably to battle.
    We will die exiles, mercenaries to strangers,
    Having seen and dreamed imperishable beauty.

You can hear the poem read aloud here. Stephen Pyne works nicely with the mythic nature of our spacecraft in his Voyager: Seeking Newer Worlds in the Third Great Age of Discovery (Viking, 2010), mindful of the need to relate what we do with science to the great themes of exploration as they have played themselves out in fact and in myth throughout history. We do well to remind ourselves, as Athena does, of both the rigor of science and the informed intuition that breeds the magic of discovery. I think about both, and about long voyages on wine-dark seas, when I imagine our Voyagers, still alive, being prepared for still deeper wanderings.

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  • Athena Andreadis November 25, 2011, 15:05

    A lovely title and segue, Paul. I’m honored and touched! Sam Kelly called Mid-Journey “bronze-voiced” in his review, which lines up with your impressions (and my intent). In some ways, I wanted to describe feral loners like me, who walk between worlds and are at home in none. In my fictional universe, one culture speaks Minoan and they call astrogators “adhirén kerís” — star striders.

    An interesting side note regarding the famous term “wine-dark sea”. The sea can be dark of course, but never red/dish (except for algal bloom, not a common occurrence in Homer’s time). Guy Deutscher in Through the Language Glass points out that when languages invent names for colors they always start with a red/white/black division, then slowly separate colors with blue being the last in line. That does not speak to visual perception, but to articulating it. So Homeric Greek was apparently at the stage where blue was generic “dark” and this is reflected in the poetry.

  • Joy November 25, 2011, 17:09

    Thank you Athena, I will be cutting and pasting your brilliant poem (with attribution) into my resignation letter from my dreadful soul sapping job serving the debauched idle sociopaths dependent on a failed welfare state.

  • Steven Rappolee November 25, 2011, 21:38

    years ago a Dr stone or one of his colleges gave a free copy of a NASA publication that was meant to be a up to then history of the voyagers missions,
    I had asked Dr stone where the voyagers would be located millennia from now and where the Star third stages would be millennia from now.
    the second question baffled many at Ames, why would anyone care? I went slowly through the chain of command at Ames with some interest and allot of disdain for why any one would want to know the location of , “debris”.
    my conversion was brief with Dr Stone, but he agreed to my idea that the star motors where cultural artifacts, worthy of a trajectory analysis but only to my first question, are the star motors and yo yo;s also heading out to the stars?
    the Ames worker assigned this task was not enthusiastic about the project and asked me, “at what point do you want me to propagate the orbit”
    I said, well just before TCM-I, I made a mistake one of the Voyagers had a traveling wave tube malfunction and did not perform a TCM-I for several months, I do not know if this makes a differences but I received a letter sating that three STAR upper stage motors where heading to the stars………………..
    and one entered the Jupiter B plane impact elipes . if such a third stage ran into Europa instead of Jupiter this would be a violation of the qurintein but the likely hood of this is low

  • NS November 26, 2011, 4:36

    We all come into this world knowing nothing and utterly dependent. Without a lot of help we stay that way. Yes, the State has a role in seeing to it that as many of us as possible get that help (“welfare” in the larger sense).

    You have obviously exhausted yourself giving that help. I hope you find a place where you can regain a less bleak view of your fellow humans.

  • Astronist November 26, 2011, 7:22

    “The human need for journeying”, certainly, but there’s also a human need to arrive and put down roots, feral loners notwithstanding.

    I don’t think Athena should be allowed to have it all her own way. There’s a disappointing lack of triumphalism in her writings, which with your permission I would like to make up for here. I too have dreamed of imperishable beauty, and this is a quote from my 1999 poem “Creation”, about a city built on the Moon:

    “I love you, city of another world!
    Child of old Earth, yet with a joie de vivre
    Filled: your rabbit warrens underground;
    Your golden domes that dazzle in the sun;
    Your liquid opal shield of artificial skies
    Embracing many an incense-bearing tree —
    Machine and ecosphere in harmony.”

    Stephen
    Oxford, UK

  • Ole Burde November 26, 2011, 9:10

    Poetry is powerfull stuff . For me the magic only gets stronger when I can see how it works … our emotional need to exlore new boundaries is no axident . When humans left Africa they drifted along coasts and rivers for many thousand years, probably always on the moove . We are mostly decendents of small bands of hunter-gatherers existing ALONE for generations ,having only themselves to rely on to maintain their culture and other lifesupport systems … so who says the human component of a generation ship cant last for a mere 400 years ? all we have to do ,is to get in touch with our own nature .

  • John Q November 26, 2011, 11:22

    >The self-serving inanities of the Strong Anthropic Principle aside, triumphalism will avail us naught in a universe that is supremely indifferent to us and our aspirations.

    I’m going to dissent from Andreadis and her musings, and I’m confident that whatever I say I will be criticized for misunderstand her, but first something positive. For those of you interested in the “self-serving inanities” of the anthropic Cosmological Principles, metaphysical notions that seek to find an integral place for life and intelligence in the universe, Victor Stenger’s latest book “The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning” makes excellent reading. Don’t worry, he can’t stand Anthropic reasoning either (mostly because of the theists hijacking of same), but as I read through the book I couldn’t help but be impressed that some first rate-thinking has resulting from working with the Anthropic ideas (Note: admittedly some first-rate minds went overboard with them early on) and given their movement/exploratory value, I think they will ultimately serve science well. Yeah, the business didn’t start out promising, but there is great stuff to chew over in this book — if appreciation of the sheer joy of thinking is what you are into. Now Stenger is a bit of a sour-apple but one whom I can appreciate. So what went wrong? My guess is that Anthropic ideas, which were an attempt to reason about the whole universe, somewhat like local-symmetries are used to reason about physics, was both a dubious analogy and likely a category mistake. So the enterprise was on shaky ground from the beginning, but so what? Again, I cannot emphasize this enough: their movement/exploratory value is useful. Read the book, all of it, and the notes because there are some real gems here to find out why. In brief, there is much less snark and much more science this time around for Stenger and I give his latest a big thumb.

    And for the leading quote by Andreadis, I don’t get it. There is no triumphalism in the ACPs (unless one is referring to the theists (maybe) but their’s is only one interpretation) and why on earth should we care if the “universe” is “indifferent to us and our aspirations”? We’re here, like it or not. The universe, if one wishes to anthropomorphize it (couldn’t resist), now has to deal with us. I can live with that. Personally, I find the odd implication of a universe interested in us and eager to be a good buddy repulsive and insulting.

    >However, we evolved here and even now, despite our technology, we are helpless before major planetary upheavals.

    Actually, though the odds are always against us, we’re not “helpless.” You see, we have this mind thing and if used — granted few avail themselves of the opportunities to do so, but when they do — watch out universe! We can do huge, amazing, incredible stuff, even “before major planetary upheavals.” Yeah, we’re in big trouble right now, but I wouldn’t write us off because of some planetary upheaval stuff and that big scary universe out there. No, not by a long shot.

  • Rob Henry November 26, 2011, 16:30

    There seems to be a modern trend towards Athena’s “we are helpless before major planetary upheavals” and it is starting to disturb me that it could become a self fulfilling prophecy. A huge modern example of this is that within the current anthropogenic warming debate I never see the topic of weather control breached.

    I am not suggesting that that is the solution, I am just pointing out that several teams should have investigated the minimum requirements for achieving a fair chance of altering weather to a predictable outcome. We should have a ballpark figure of what area of targetable mirrors we would have to put in space before our strongest supercomputers could begin to give useful outcomes. Given the butterfly effect this area might be incredibly small, but if that whole idea is a red herring it would still be nice to realise that the spell has been breached whereby we must think within a box where our helplessness is assumed.

  • Eniac November 27, 2011, 3:42

    @John:

    So what went wrong?

    As I see it, what went wrong was a certain book by Barrow and Tipler, which has given the idea a bad name.

    The anthropic principle is really just a cosmological application of selection bias, almost trivial and with no real physical implications. Roughly, the weak principle notes that our selection of observable planets is biased (the one we can observe is the one we live on), and the strong one that our view of possible universes is biased (the one we observe is one in which we can come to exist). The principle is rightfully called tautological, meaning obviously true. Inane, however, it is not.

    As long as physics and religion are left out of it, I think the concept has enormous philosophical value. It helps explain why the world is the way it is, without invoking either unique laws of nature, or worse, deliberate control.

    It all becomes a bit easier to deal with if you throw out the idea that there is one and only one reality. Reality is merely a point of view. Like the future, the past and the present are not one, but many. It is our point of view that permits us to see only one past and one present, although we can still see many futures.

    From Wikipedia: “Triumphalism is the attitude or belief that a particular doctrine, religion, culture, or social system is superior to and should triumph over all others.” I do not think that anyone here can be accused of such thinking. It certainly has no relation to the anthropic principle. Perhaps Athena would like to give a concrete example of the triumphalism she seems to consider rampant.

  • Brett Bellmore November 27, 2011, 9:11

    “A huge modern example of this is that within the current anthropogenic warming debate I never see the topic of weather control breached.”

    I believe that to be because among the activists in that cause, continuing to burn coal while technology saves the day is seen as something of a worst case scenario. What’s the point in saving the world if you can’t use it as an excuse to enforce your preexisting policy preferences? You can see this in their reaction to nuclear power, too; They’d rather the world cooked, than see a future where nuclear power was embraced.

  • Ole Burde November 27, 2011, 13:07

    “Triumphalism” , “Antropic principle” …. Corect me if i am wrong , but aren’t these notions just a way of bringing POLITICS inn through the back door to the world off SF and space enthusiasm ???
    As seen in the moovie “Avatar” , political correct attitudes such as anti-imperialism has already comletely taken ower Hollywood . The way to resist all this BEEEEEP ! can not be to cooperate in using the very notions whoose only real purpose is to portray manned space exploration as imperrialistic-militaristic-racist and realy BAD !
    For anyboddy who think I am exagerating , it might be a good idea to reflect a litle about why the 1950′ era of SF has such a magic and special place among the best kinds of SF fans ?
    It would be best if politics had no place at all in SF , but this is now sadly too late , the virus is already spreadding , so now would be agood time time to start producing some effective antibodies .

  • Duncan Ivry November 27, 2011, 14:11

    Some interesting statements about the anthropic principle here. As far as I’m concerned, I’m completely at a loss — which doesn’t happen very often.

  • Duncan Ivry November 27, 2011, 17:31

    Ole Burde: “It would be best if politics had no place at all in SF …”

    I think, I quite understand why you say this, but for me science fiction is not only about the hard branches of science and about technology, but deals with everything human which is fictional and scientific (cum grano salis).

    The not so hard disciplines — the humanities and, yes, political science — can be and are scientific disciplines too (you will find this view more in continental Europe than in America and in the United Kingdom, as far as I can see).

    Above that I absolutely don’t want to miss science fiction stories of the utopian and dystopian kind, e.g. George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which indeed *are* political statements.

  • Adam Crowl November 27, 2011, 17:52

    The Anthropic Principle isn’t overly useful if we restrict to our kind of Life. It’s a far broader and more interesting question to ask what makes Life possible in a cosmos than what makes our presence possible so we can observe the way things are. One is far more parochial a view than the other.

    As for deliberate hyper-cosmic fiddling with the laws of our cosmos, that’s always possible, but tells us essentially nothing about the Fiddler(s). Thus it’s only theistic if you bring that baggage into the question to start with. As Richard Dawkins has noted [my paraphrase], the idea of a Designed cosmos is a very interesting one, but so far the suggested Designers are incuriously parochial.

  • CWJ November 27, 2011, 18:14

    I’ve certainly met lots of people who were against the space program. “Solve our problems on Earth first,” they said.

    Dr. Andreadis is definitely not one of those. She is very pro-space travel, very pro-exploration, very much pro-dream.

    But because she, having some actual technical knowledge, points out it will not be easy, will come with hard sacrifices, many of you (I’m looking at you, Stephen) stick your fingers in your ears and say loudly “I’m not listening! La la la! Unlimited resources! La la la! Unlimited resources!”

    Not only are you triumphalists, you are idealogues, unable to tolerate someone (Dr. Andreadis) who is in fact highly aligned with your own ideals, but who does not subscribe without reservation and without dissent to the Party Line.

    Ole Burde decries politics in space travel, but, friend, it’s already here. In these comments. Just a different kind of politics, just as intolerant of marginally different points of view as any other politics.

    And your unwillingness to recognize and welcome as a friend someone like Dr. Andreadis is what will doom you.

  • Athena Andreadis November 27, 2011, 18:44

    To the emotional sophomores among you, the links below will suffice, in lieu of slapping contests:

    Is It Something in the Water? Or: Me Tarzan, You Ape
    http://www.starshipreckless.com/blog/?p=712

    Cameron’s Avatar: Jar Jar Binks Meets Pocahontas
    http://www.starshipreckless.com/blog/?p=1245

    High Frontiers and Cheap Snarks
    http://www.starshipreckless.com/blog/?p=5209

  • Eniac November 27, 2011, 20:10

    Athena, could we tone down the condescension and intellectual snobbism a little bit? Thank you.

  • Astronist November 27, 2011, 22:21

    Okay, what do we mean by “triumphalism”? Eniac supplied a dictionary definition above. Athena clearly linked it with the idea that we can “conquer” space, and her blog links supplied above do not enlarge on the term any further, apart from applying it to journalists who misrepresent the collaboration between scientists and laypeople in crowdsourcing projects.

    I take it in the present context to be a reference to the idea that a large-scale expansion of our civilisation into space is possible, based on use of the resources of the Sun, the planets and the asteroids (which CWJ in his or her comment above seems for some reason to be skeptical about). Since such an expanded civilisation would of necessity be very much wealthier than our current one, contemplation of the possible success of such an enterprise clearly evokes a feeling of pleasure which a critic might very possibly term “triumphalist”.

    Interesting question: when is a future prospect triumphalist, and when is it inspiring or visionary? I suggest that it depends on whether the speaker judges that prospect to be harmful or unattainable on the one hand, or to be beneficial and feasible on the other.

    For me, then, the debate hinges upon the question as to what the Voyager probes, and their speculative passenger-carrying successors, are really for: pure science only, or a general expansion of human civilisation into the cosmos? What is the vision of the future which we want to sell to the broader public? Are we merely promoting a turbocharged version of the Curiosity Mars rover that can roll over even more distant planets, or are we offering something more like the starship Enterprise, with all the implied social revolutions inherent in creating a galaxy-wide federation of inhabited worlds?

    I think it shows no disrespect or hostility to someone such as Athena to point out that a disagreement exists, and (CWJ’s jibes notwithstanding) to try to pin down specific technical reasons for that disagreement.

    Stephen
    Oxford, UK

  • Eniac November 27, 2011, 23:07

    @Adam:

    The Anthropic Principle isn’t overly useful if we restrict to our kind of Life. It’s a far broader and more interesting question to ask what makes Life possible in a cosmos than what makes our presence possible so we can observe the way things are. One is far more parochial a view than the other.

    This is true. However, all we know for sure at this point is that our kind of life is possible in this cosmos. About other kinds, we have no idea, and I fear that that which is not required may be, with overwhelming probability, absent.

  • CWJ November 28, 2011, 10:23

    @stephen:

    But in the past when people have given “specific technical reasons” for being dubious about the ease about accessing resources in the solar system, as I’ve tried to do over on Dr. Andreadis’ site, you’ve either just repeated the mantra of “unlimited resources” or, in the case of Tom Murphy’s careful numerical calculations, simply resorted to snorting “straw man!” So don’t accuse people of being unwilling to be specific when you yourself are unwilling, or incapable, or being so.

  • CWJ November 28, 2011, 10:44

    PS — but, Stephen, if you want to debate on technical details, with real math and physics behind it, I’d be more than happy to oblige. Say yes, and we can set up the details at some suitable venue…

  • Athena Andreadis November 28, 2011, 13:54

    Definitions of triumphalism from dictionaries:

    “Excessive exultation over one’s success or achievements”
    “An attitude or feeling of victory or superiority”

    And since Wikipedia was quoted as a source, it also contains this:

    “A triumphalist may derive a sense of pride, security, or virtue from their sense of superiority and expectation of ultimate triumph. However, those who believe in their own group’s superiority or inevitable ascendancy do not typically claim the label ‘triumphalist’ [AA comment: No! Really?]. Instead, the term usually has a negative connotation and is used by those who do not accept the superiority of the belief or group in question, or by those who are warning against the effects of over-confidence and hubris within their own group.”

    As for the Anthropic Principle (which opens the back door wide to religion): both versions use circular logic in which their premise (taken a priori as proved or not to be contested) becomes their conclusion. Thus inane, as in vacuous. The weak version is tautological and hence useless for scientific predictions; the strong version is palpably incorrect and its “universe-creating minds” crap actively harms science. So all that’s left to recommend it is that it lulls the existential fears of those who hanker for security blankies.

  • Ole Burde November 28, 2011, 17:30

    What I hate about politics, is how much it resemles the wold of fashion .
    Having somehow conqered the high ground of “coolnes” , anybody else automaticly becomes legitimate targets for real cool sniping . Here are the latest examples :
    CWJ : ….”And your unwillingness to recognize and welcome as a friend someone like Dr. Andreadis is what will doom you.”
    “DOOM” ? well , if we’re in the DOOM profet-business , I would put my money on general ownership of nuclear weapons among third rate ditators !
    A.A. : “To the emotional sophomores among you, the links below will suffice, in lieu of slapping contests”
    “slapping contests” ? forget about that , much more interesting to have a look at A.A. s critic of Avatar in her blog ( Jar Jar Binks Meets Pocahontas):
    In no place does she have any hard word for the general message of ” Bad Humans Go Home” , but rather has alot of disgreament about the STYLE in which this brainwash is delivered , a style wich to her great disapoinment has made too many compromises .
    So , as Astronist very diplomatticly put it , ” a diagreament exists” . In MY version of Avatar , a coloniship might have the bad luck to encounter a planet ocupied by an undetectable pre-industrial civilisation , but after the ship had travelled for centuries and arieved on its last gasp of maintenance capacity , the cool blue natives would basicly have to give up HALF their planet peacefully , or face the possibility of extinction .

  • Athena Andreadis November 28, 2011, 17:58

    Ole: it would help if you could spell and form coherent thoughts — hell, even coherent sentences. If you think I objected to Avatar’s style, your comprehension skills need some boosting as well. Also, “POLITICS” (in scare quotes and capitals) is funny, coming from a guy who explicitly advocated eugenics in an earlier Centauri Dreams post and is here advocating “Nuke ’em, Rico!” approaches. Last but decidedly not least, ooky girls and suchlike won’t go away because you’re scared of catching alternative viewpoint cooties.

  • Rob Henry November 28, 2011, 18:03

    Ole Burde, how perceptive of you to note the similarities of politics and fashion, but I can but hope that you’re just as perceptive of their differences. Please note how sufficiently intelligent humans will realise the irrationality and loss of individuality implicit in their dedicated following of fashion. Note how such objective reasoning tends to disappear from the “politically astute” in times when they find the want to indulge their passions. Be afraid Ole, be very afraid!

  • Astronist November 28, 2011, 21:03

    CWJ: Yes.

    However, you may first want to read my comment dated 26 September 2011 at 12:02 pm at Athena’s blog posting “Small Bricks, but Bricks All the Same” (http://www.starshipnivan.com/blog/?p=5190#comments), responding to someone called Caliban and containing various numerical estimates, before telling Centauri Dreams readers that I am “unwilling, or incapable” of being specific. I’d also like you to remind me exactly where I used the expression, which you have twice attributed to me, of “unlimited resources” (your quotation marks), as I can’t find the place where I was ill-advised enough to use this phrase. Clearly, though the material resources of the universe are large, they are not “unlimited”.

    Stephen

  • Eniac November 29, 2011, 0:36

    As for the Anthropic Principle (which opens the back door wide to religion): both versions use circular logic in which their premise (taken a priori as proved or not to be contested) becomes their conclusion. Thus inane, as in vacuous. The weak version is tautological and hence useless for scientific predictions; the strong version is palpably incorrect and its “universe-creating minds” crap actively harms science. So all that’s left to recommend it is that it lulls the existential fears of those who hanker for security blankies.

    Athena here provides a prime example of the damage that has been done to a perfectly good concept by over- and misinterpretation (hijacking, as John Q has aptly called it). Filled with disdain and contempt for the ideas of the hijackers, it is easy to throw out the baby with the bathwater. It can even happen to such an accomplished intellectual and scientist as Dr. Andreadis.

    Let us go easy on the disdain and contempt, please!

  • Eniac November 29, 2011, 1:02

    After repenting my unwise use of Wikipedia as ammunition for the good dictionary fight, I have tried three other dictionaries (see below). After perusal of all the definitions, I remain convinced that “attitude or belief that a particular doctrine, religion, culture, or social system is superior to and should triumph over all others” describes it best. The “Excessive exultation” part is a minor component. Most importantly, there is always an implied “others” to be triumphed over.

    Thus I would advise Astronist to retreat from his espousal of the term, as Athena has correctly pointed out that it is considered derogatory. I would also ask Athena to refrain from throwing it around too much, for the same reason.

    Here now the slaps, pregoogled:

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/triumphalism
    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/triumphalism
    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/triumphalism

  • Astronist November 29, 2011, 8:46

    Eniac, I agree totally that “triumphalism” is derogatory. My use of the word in my first post above was clearly tongue-in-cheek, a reaction to its unqualified use in a quotation from Athena which appeared in the original blog post.

    Given the many dangers and pitfalls of venturing further into space (or, indeed, not venturing further into space), we may be inspired by a constructive vision of a future of space colonisation and interstellar travel, but need also to be wary of the potential roadblocks. To be triumphalist about it would be inappropriate.

    Stephen

  • CWJ November 29, 2011, 8:53

    Stephen,
    I can setup a blog space for a discussion, although I am open to any venue of your choosing. My suggestion would be to discuss cost-to-benefit ratios of accessing resources in space. What do you think?
    Also–I will acknowledge I have been snarky and verging on the incivil and will pledge to pull back on that. I will ask the same of you.

  • ljk November 29, 2011, 11:39

    Steven Rappolee said on November 25, 2011 at 21:38:

    “years ago a Dr stone or one of his colleges gave a free copy of a NASA publication that was meant to be a up to then history of the voyagers missions, I had asked Dr stone where the voyagers would be located millennia from now and where the Star third stages would be millennia from now.

    “the second question baffled many at Ames, why would anyone care? I went slowly through the chain of command at Ames with some interest and allot of disdain for why any one would want to know the location of , “debris”.”

    LJK replies:

    Steve, sadly the reaction you received from Ames is neither surprising nor new. Toss a machine into the wider Milky Way galaxy – why not? It reminds me of the attitude espoused even by wilderness preservation pioneer John Muir in the late 19th Century, who assumed the trash and other items left behind at any typical campsite would just blow away into the forest, no problem. The Universe is so much bigger than any Earth forest – surely no one would notice a few rocket stages and some eventually inactive robot probes, even though we know far less about who and what is in the rest of our galaxy than Muir did about the terrestrial wilderness two centuries ago.

    You will note that when humanity’s first two vessels to leave the Sol system, Pioneer 10 and 11, were being built in the early 1970s, Carl Sagan and a few other people outside NASA approached the agency about placing some kind of information package aboard the probes in case anyone ever found them some day.

    Most NASA folks saw little point in making even a token effort and certainly nothing was being planned by them. It required essential outsiders like Sagan to come up with the plaques for the Pioneers and the golden records for the twin Voyagers a few years later with their large improvement in information.

    By the time our next interstellar probe was launched in 2006, namely New Horizons, the project team did not bother with any kind of information package equivalent in thought and scope compared to the Pioneers and Voyagers, with the surprising exception of some of Clyde Tombaugh’s ashes. You can see why the last stage of any rocket on these missions is given even less consideration by its makers and launchers, even though they are much bigger than the probes they lofted into the galaxy.

    I am sure if the alien equivalent of a rocket booster or propulsion drive stage came barreling through our Sol system, we would like to have more than just an aging hunk of metal hull and engine parts accompanying such a relic – not only to help us learn more about it and who built it, but also to have some reassurances that the object is not potentially something more than an errant piece of junk hurled thoughtlessly into the void by intelligences who also did not consider the potential consequences of sending representatives of themselves into the unknown.

    And Steve, thank you for the leg work on this neglected subject. Do you have details on where each item is heading?

  • Athena Andreadis November 29, 2011, 11:55

    The Cootie Dialogues

    Paul Gilster: “Let me tell you about this nice poem I just read…”

    Stephen: “Look at me! I can write poetry too, and mine is better!”

    John Q: “Poetry and such is girly stuff for people who aren’t macho!”

    Eniac: “Maybe this girl can explain to us why she deserves to be in our treehouse!”

    Ole: “We don’t want no goddamn girls, they’re ooky!”

  • ljk November 29, 2011, 12:10

    Brett Bellmore said on November 27, 2011 at 9:11:

    “A huge modern example of this is that within the current anthropogenic warming debate I never see the topic of weather control breached.”

    “I believe that to be because among the activists in that cause, continuing to burn coal while technology saves the day is seen as something of a worst case scenario. What’s the point in saving the world if you can’t use it as an excuse to enforce your preexisting policy preferences? You can see this in their reaction to nuclear power, too; They’d rather the world cooked, than see a future where nuclear power was embraced.”

    LJK replies:

    Did you know that some of the current environmentalist leaders were in the process of slowly indoctrinating their followers to start supporting nuclear power, as having gotten past the China Syndrome and Chernobyl era (and the Cold War), they also recognized that nuclear energy is much cleaner overall than coal and oil. The Gulf Oil Spill of 2010 was helping in this area, only to be set back by the tragic events in Japan in March of 2011.

    I have a feeling that nuclear will be supported again by all but the most ardent ecofanatics, especially if it is provided by facilities with modern technology and safeguards, which the Japanese reactors lacked (plus being built in such a volatile earthquake zone did not help).

    And until we can start producing or gathering antimatter in large enough quantities, or get some serious laser stations in space, or realize that fusion drive we have been hearing about for decades, we will need fission nuclear technology if we ever want to be serious about getting to the stars in less than many human generations.

  • ljk November 29, 2011, 15:23

    Ole Burde said on November 28, 2011 at 17:30:

    “So , as Astronist very diplomatticly put it , ” a diagreament exists” . In MY version of Avatar , a coloniship might have the bad luck to encounter a planet ocupied by an undetectable pre-industrial civilisation , but after the ship had travelled for centuries and arieved on its last gasp of maintenance capacity , the cool blue natives would basicly have to give up HALF their planet peacefully , or face the possibility of extinction.”

    LJK replies:

    Well, let us hope that the crew of an ETI starship/worldship appearing over Earth does not have similar designs on our world any time soon, as it will take very little imagination to figure out the reactions from humanity to such a request.

    Ironically and sadly, if we do ever send out worldships filled with humans similar to us, and if they do come across an alien planet similar to Earth or at least close enough to be terraformed, I can see a scenario like in Avatar happening.

    However, this also assumes that a crew which has been on a ship in deep space for generations would want to do more than just stop to resupply. If such a crew would not want to live on a single planet, then even getting resources would probably be much easier via planetoids, comets, moons, and even ring systems than from the relatively deep gravity well of an Earthlike (and size) world.

    The Avatar scenario becomes even less likely if our starships are “manned” by AI/Artilects, which is my bet for the direction of interstellar voyaging from this neck of the celestial woods.

  • Ole Burde November 29, 2011, 16:44

    Waow , that was a pefect answer that I got from Athena Adiadis . She seems to be doing her best at prooving my theory about how Real Cool Sniping is used by some people as an alternative to an answer that has anything to do with the statements of people holding opposing wiews .
    Her answer to me consists of acusations various BAD behaviour-components , some of which might be true , but none of which has anything to do with the central question raised , which goes like this : are we ever going to reach the stars if we dont believe in our own right to survive when we get there ?
    So , what was the acusations ? Here’s a cronological list :
    1 . BAD spelling … Definitely true ! … English is not my first language , still noboddy has ever claimed my version to be unclear .
    2. uncoherent thoughts …, well it seems that A.A. claims telepatic powers .
    3. Lack of coherent sentences .. again it seems to be the style or form of the language A.A. attacs , as opposed to the CONTENT of the message.
    4.Misunderstandig her attitude to the Avatar-ideology…NOT in relation to the central statement of the film , which is ” Bad Humans Go Home”. If A.A. disagrees with this message , she would have had no reason not to say so in a clear and open manner .
    5. Advocating “Eugenics”… that IS a real BAD word ! it implies something similar to ETNIC cleaning . This has nothing to do with using genetic engineering as a tool to solving a specific human problem, like T-Sachs or
    creating a crew capable of being frozen for a spaceship .
    6. ” nuke them aproach”… another TABOO word is used to imply general badness…why would a colonyship want to unnecesarily polute their new home ? no reason to use more force than necesary against an intelligent species that doesnt make any tools . Much like our present day relation to dolfins and elefants really .We try not to hurt them , but noboddy is going to start a war to stop someboddy else from eating an elefant.
    7. “ookie girls” …? Hmm… seems to be some kind CODE …, my best gues is that A. A. is somehow acusing me of male chauvinism . This might be a good ocasion to reveal that my wife used to be a sargent in the Israeli army .

    In short , A.A. has said close to nothing even remotely related to the central question raised .

  • Eniac November 30, 2011, 1:31

    The Cootie Dialogues (continued)

    Athena: “Girls rule, boys drool!”

  • Eniac November 30, 2011, 1:53

    LJK and Ole: Avatar actually is the wrong movie for the one-way colony ship situation you describe. The ships used in Avatar are made for round trips, and the purpose of travel is business, not emigration. There is no intent to take the land, useless as it is for human occupation. There is also no primary intent to harm or displace the natives. Unless, of course, they get in the way of mining the unobtainium, in which case they are to be scattered like cockroaches.

    A better example would be the (I think European?) “Battle for Terra”. Not the same production values, not even close, but right along your line of thinking.

  • Rob Henry November 30, 2011, 5:46

    Athena, reread the comments and you will see that neigh all commenter here have greatest reverence for one writer. If you actually complete that task you will see how plainly that is you. Your constructive criticism is eagerly awaited and would be of great benefit to all, but I don’t understand how your personal insults can serve any constructive purpose.

    A few slaps would be appreciated if they are aimed at ones ideas and not ones person. Actually, such criticism can even save the world!

  • Ole Burde November 30, 2011, 11:43

    LJK said on november 29 at 17.30 :
    “Well, let us hope that the crew of an ETI starship/worldship appearing over Earth does not have similar designs on our world any time soon, as it will take very little imagination to figure out the reactions from humanity to such a request”
    O.B. replies : True enough , but this is not a paralel situation to the one I tried to describe , because it was an UNDETECTABLE and therefore non-toolmaking intelligent species , similar to elefants or dolfins .In my scenario the earth setlers acted in good faith , believing that they had found a planet with only primitive lifeforms such as earth has probably been for most of its history . Having most probably exhausted both fuel and maintenennce capacity , the setlers would have to do whatever would be judged necesary to survive , exept ofcourse if they would choose to commit suicide …

    If this is what history demands of us , then lets start by giving the US back to its rightfull owners ,the indians…

    The ET starship wanting to conquer earth on the other hand , would probably not be acting on good faith, because earth has been sending out strong and easyly detected radiosignals for almost a hundred years . One disturbing possiblity still exists , that a relatively slow ET starship has been on its way to earth for several hundres years , with no fuel reserve to change the target after having started to recieve radiocomunication . This kind of scenario , wether for ET or humans ,would statisticly be a case of extremely bad luck for everybody involved .
    In the alternative reality of the Avatar scenario , things are very different . Logic has no place , exept as very thin layer of camuoflage for the underlying political idelogy . Its all about anti-gravity , tribal magic, and the transfer of SOULS . This kind of stuff is polution of the SF mindset .

  • Avatar2.0 November 30, 2011, 12:14

    Personally, I liked the poem.

    As for the ‘discussion’ – it reached the stage when it’s little more than veiled condescension/sarcasm/etc, on all sides. Little will come of it.

  • Sam M-B November 30, 2011, 14:57

    I really enjoyed reading the interview and hearing AA’s poem at Stone Telling, thanks Paul.

  • Duncan Ivry November 30, 2011, 19:17

    Ole Burde, English is not my first language too, and I know how difficult it is to understand what native speakers mean, especially when they disagree. But in too many cases it’s difficult in a different way to understand what non-native speakers — like you and me (and, as far as I know, Athena Andreadis) — mean, when they use English. And that nobody complains does not imply that statements are clear.

    Well, then, as far as I’m concerned, I’m not sure I did understand everything you said, and I’m rather sure I did not understand some of Athena Andreadis’ statements. It’s not easy.

    A last point: Bringing “thoughts” and “telepathy” together in an English sentence, like you did, is a little bit of an overstatement.

  • Astronist November 30, 2011, 21:39

    CWJ: if you want to set up a blog specifically for a discussion of costs and benefits of space resources, then I’ll be happy to contribute to that as best I can.

    Athena: your bronze-voiced poem is extremely vivid, and a pleasure to read and to hear, despite its despairing tone. But to me it reads like an extract from a longer piece, in which the missing context would be supplied. Right now I’m undecided as to whether “Mid-Journey” refers to a starship voyage, or to the metaphorical voyage of the Hellenes through terrestrial history. Maybe it was intended as either or both of these, I don’t know.

    Clearly, jokes about playground “alternative viewpoint cooties” apart, in my earlier posts above I was reacting against your quoted statement that we need to be “deeply aware that we can never ‘conquer’ space”, and your characterisation of such a hope as “triumphalism”. I find this disagreement frustrating, especially when the only alternative seems to be to “die exiles, mercenaries to strangers”, having left our loved ones behind in “ruins and flames”, which is absolutely not how I see human life in space or on Earth!

    Stephen

  • Rob Henry December 1, 2011, 2:46

    Ole’s alternative ending for Avatar sounded over-the-top, but it is ljk’s suggestion that “Well, let us hope that the crew of an ETI starship/worldship appearing over Earth does not have similar designs on our world any time soon” that really shocks me. An ETI arriving here and asking for half our planet would be almost unmitigatingly great news. Let me explain why.

    If they speak of “our” planet then they give us more entitlement to it and all other creatures in it than we fairly deserve.

    Just asking for half indicates that they have a sense of fair play, and feel that we are worthy of being considered as peers.

    The fact that they are capable of interstellar travel implies that they have knowledge and technology that would certainly allow us greater prosperity on half the planet than we ever achieved on the whole. Probably all we have to do is ask nicely and then humbly thank them.

    Their view as expert outsiders on human psychology would facilitate an increase in our capacity reconcile differences with other people. Actually their mere presence would allow us greater perspective on such problems. All this would lead to greater health happiness and well-being.

    They would take care of global hazards such as asteroid impacts without us even needing to ask them.

    The only bad news that I can see to weigh all that against is that our pride as a self-sufficient species would take a battering and many fine military personal would be unemployed in the aftermath… but them’s the breaks.

  • CWJ December 1, 2011, 11:10

    Stephen, I’m traveling this week to work with collaborators and to give a seminar, so I’ll set it up next week.

    But let me stress it will be important to keep a civil tone.

  • Ole Burde December 1, 2011, 12:11

    @Eniac
    If the ships used in Avatar is ” made for roundtrips” , it is because only in this kind of scenario can manned spaceflight be presented as a purely profit driven capitalistic enterprise , rotten from deep inside.
    It would make no sense to accept the basic premisses of this scenario in order to show how far-out it is as SF . The way I chose was instead to compare it to a more probable future , one WITHOUT warp-factors , unlimited propulsion systems , tribal magic ,soul transfer , freeze-capable humans, unoptainium antigravity OR human spacetravellors with a moral obligation to commit suicide .
    Anyhow , if someboddy REALY believes we have an all-powerfull moral obligation to stop the mostly unintentional killing of other intelligent but non-toolmaking species such as dolfins and elefants , I sugest they should ask their government to declare war against at least 30 countries guilty of this offence .

  • ljk December 1, 2011, 12:30

    So, Rob – if an alien worldship showed up with a bunch of alien colonists essentially demanding that we let them settle half of Earth, which I assume would mean that all the humans living on the half they want would have to move over to the other side of the planet – would you be okay with this if you and your family were living on the half these aliens wanted?

    Perhaps you are aware of some new aspect of human psychology which I am not privvy to that would be fine, even joyful, about a group of extraterrestrials with a big ship or two (and presumably some rather advanced technology that may include the means to enforce their desires better than anything we possess at the moment) moving in on our planet and essentially displacing several billion humans.

    Now I know we technically do not “own” Earth, but I would say having lived here for several million years now and with no currently practicaly way to get the majority to live anywhere else, we do and would have some rights about being here over a group of strangers who were not natives. Just as any future humans who want to colonize an exoplanet would hopefully take into consideration any intelligent life forms residing there before doing anything rather radical, like take half the place.

    And what would then stop them from wanting the whole ball of rock for themselves?

    And again, how many humans would really be happy about sharing Earth in such a manner, as opposed to showing their displeasure with such an event in a rather forceful manner. Which they would likely do even if the occupying ETI had superior firepower.

  • Sean M. Brooks December 1, 2011, 12:41

    For one reason or another, I’m late commenting here. But this quoting by Paul Gilster of Dr. Andreadis’ remarks about scientific research interested me: “a type of rigor and dedication usually associated with monastic orders.” The idea that, in some ways, truly dedicated scientists are like monks is not a new one. Poul Anderson, in his deeply movinig story “Sister Planet” (1959, used the same idea. The story is set in a bleak era reminding be a bit of Orwell’s 1984. One passage of that story reads: “Medieval feudalism and monasticism evolved within the Roman domain; they were there when it fell apart. I wonder if a parallel development may not already be taking place. The feudalism of the large corporations on Earth; the monasticism of planetary stations like this.”

    Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

  • ljk December 1, 2011, 15:09

    Would folks feel better if certain types of aliens only wanted to eat our buildings instead of us?

    http://www.universetoday.com/91449/why-silicon-based-aliens-would-rather-eat-our-cities-than-us-thoughts-on-non-carbon-astrobiology/