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Cassini at Saturn

The Cassini Space Probe has arrived in the vicinity of Saturn. As well as taking some breathtaking photos of Saturn, the probe is going to investigate some of the ringed planet’s moons. On June 11 Cassini flys past the moon of Phoebe.

These space probes are a frivolous use of taxpayer’s money, but we do at least learn something from them. The geek in me loves them but the libertarian in me isn’t quite so amused.

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12 comments to Cassini at Saturn

  • The Snark Who Was Really a Boojum

    Not *that* frivolous. When we make the push for space colonies it’ll probably be useful to know where all the potential water sites are parked. ^_~

  • Aral Simbon

    Frivolous? Nah. I guess you could argue that all spending through taxation is frivolous. Anyway, given that I have to pay tax, and given that we are morally obliged to explore and colonise space, I couldn’t think of a better thing to spend my tax money on. I am all in favour of a private space program, but I think that robotic exploration of the planets is something the US government has done rather well. So I’m happy to leave them to it until the private sector catches up.

    I’m sure that Cassini will make some remarkable discoveries in the coming months.

  • I don’t think they are frivolous at all. I think finding out about the solar system and the universe is one of mankind’s highest callings. Over the last couple of decades NASA’s manned space program has turned into a giant boondoggle which costs immense amounts of money and achieves little that is useful, but the unmanned planetary exploration program has achieved triumph after triumph, has done an immense amount of good science, and at a cost that is miniscule compared to the cost of the manned program. I tend to see them as evidence that very occasionally the state can do something good.

  • The last time I heard about Cassini, it was probably 3-4-5 years ago. I almost forgot about it.

    Nice to know it is arriving at Saturn without Galileo’s problems.

    And the money spent exploring is better spent than invading some other country.

  • toolkien

    Raining on the parade but I find no justification for State interference for space exploration. Any use for exploration should rest on the private sector.

    I’ve always been a little curious how we are supposed to colonize space, awash in radiation, when the State gets itself in a bind because I may have trace elements of radon in my basement. I cannot fathom the costs necessary to build colonies that can be habitable, and maintain them, when the roads and bridges in the US are in sad shape.

    I cannot help but see space exploration as a (near)universally accepted means for the State to extract money from the population, largely for a ‘cosmological’ purpose in more ways than one. It feeds the ‘wonderment’ aspect of human nature, and is quasi-religious (IMO) and therefore should be outside the province of the State. If someone can show how space exploration can be justified in terms of protecting life and property from direct threats, then I may see the light. Otherwise it is simply a another program with speculative worth.

    When and if it becomes economically necessary, private resources will find a way to mine resources on other planets/moons. As for traveling outside the solar system, I think that is fanciful at best. Past research has shown me that the next nearest star is 4 light years away, so would be an 8 year trip travelling near the speed of light, just to circle that star and come home. The next nearest star with a planet is something like 52 light years away, and is likely not able to be landed upon anyway. So I think we’re likely to be living here and the local scenery. The only reason to go to the moon, other than simple travel, would be for resources, and both can be left to the private sector.

    Lastly, if I am against transfer of resources to individuals so that children/poor can have food and medicine, it seems our of whack to favor confiscation for ‘a want’ versus ‘a need’. I don’t favor either, of course, but if I were to get on board with transfer, I’d probably start there. I can see a perhaps a quicker return on investment in social investment versus sampling rocks on Mars.

  • Aral Simbon

    I’ve always been a little curious how we are supposed to colonize space, awash in radiation, when the State gets itself in a bind because I may have trace elements of radon in my basement.

    The problem with this kind of thinking is that you assume that the ever-increasing rate of technological change will not bring about fundamental changes to the nature of intelligent life on this planet. I imagine that the colonization of space will not be done by ourselves, but by intelligent robots, or by genetically enhanced versions of ourselves, or by some combination thereof.

    I cannot help but see space exploration as a (near)universally accepted means for the State to extract money from the population, largely for a ‘cosmological’ purpose in more ways than one. … If someone can show how space exploration can be justified in terms of protecting life and property from direct threats, then I may see the light. …

    There are many threats to life and property that can come from space. The most well known, of course, are meteorites. We all now about the kind of extremely rare giant meteorite that was allegedly implicated in the death of the dinosaurs, but the threat posed by much smaller meteorites is not greatly appreciated. By way of example, I cite the Tunguska event of 1908, the meteorite that was thought to have cause the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and the Wabar meteorite that turned a chunk of the Saudi desert to glass in the 19th century. Other threats to Earth include super-nova, gamma-ray burstors, extreme solar outbursts, and wandering black holes, to name but a few.

    You might reflect on the fact that we live on a very strange planet. It is the only planet that we know of that supports intelligent life. We may wonder why that is. Is the combination of factors that brought about life on Earth unusual? Can we take these factors fore-granted? I see the interplanetary space probes as contributing in a fundamental way to our understanding of how Earth got to be the way it is. It is through such understanding that we can foresee threats to our planet and develop the knowledge to do something about it. That is why I don’t object to state funding of projects like Cassini.

    When and if it becomes economically necessary, private resources will find a way to mine resources on other planets/moons.

    Indeed.

    As for traveling outside the solar system, I think that is fanciful at best.

    There are already proposals for robotic missions to the nearest star. Imagine what such robots will look like in one or two centuries time. Advanced intelligent robots could seed the galaxy with life in less than 1 million years, a very short time geologically speaking.

    Lastly, if I am against transfer of resources to individuals so that children/poor can have food and medicine, it seems our of whack to favor confiscation for ‘a want’ versus ‘a need’.

    It is too risky for humanity and its descendents to all remain on Earth. Space exploration is not a want; it is a need. For the future of humanity, we are morally obligated to explore space. And imagine how precious humanity is if we are indeed alone in the universe.

  • toolkien

    For the future of humanity, we are morally obligated to explore space. And imagine how precious humanity is if we are indeed alone in the universe.

    If I am to regard humanity as precious then you’ve validated every transfer program that exists. If I do not regard myself as a slave to my fellow man, called upon to sacrifice myself until there is nothing left of who I am, I am certainly not going to sacrifice myself for people not even born yet. Once again if I am to sacrifice myself I’d rather do it for the children down the street than to spend billions on robots going to the next star.

    There are many threats to life and property that can come from space. The most well known, of course, are meteorites. We all now about the kind of extremely rare giant meteorite that was allegedly implicated in the death of the dinosaurs

    I’m supposed to exist on a plane of time/space that is hundreds of millions of years? I’ve got about 70 odd years (sometimes very odd) and it is that time and space that I am concerned about.

    In the end, I resist any and all claims on my life and property for religious or quasi-religious reasons. Dreaming about space belongs in the cosmological realm versus the realm of public policy. Confiscation is confiscation so we’d better be clear on what rights the State has in doing so.

    Your analysis is steeped in collective mindedness, granted shoved far enough in the future which perhaps makes it more palatable. If I’m worried about the fate of mankind in general, which I am not, I’d start with the poor and desperate. I think being mugged at gun point is much more likely a threat than being squashed by a meteorite.

  • Whip

    Somewhat off-topic, but today NASA announced that it is considering a robotic servicing mission to Hubble.

  • Whip

    Dang! My html skills are lacking.

    let me try again

  • Aral Simbon

    toolkien – you missed my point, which was that we tend to underestimate the risks posed by space and that it behooves us to learn more about space in order to better gage the risks. I gave three examples of meteorite touchdowns within the last 150 years that would have been devastating had they impacted a populated area (and, of course, the Great Chicago Fire was pretty bad). And it is quite common for military early warning systems to pick up megaton airbursts caused by incoming meteors. Do you think that this is a risk not worth worrying about? And what about the risk posed by our sun? It is prone to outbursts that can bring down communication networks and power grids, if not worse. And then there is this. Do you seriously think we should learn nothing about space until such time as it becomes commercially viable? If you do not know what is out there, then you risk being 9-11ed, and in your lifetime.

    BTW, when I talked about GE, AI, the colonisation of space etc, I did not mean to imply that I was talking about giant government sponsored programs. We are morally obliged to explore space but that doesn’t mean that it has to be done through government or coercion. Regarding humanity as precious does not validate every wealth transfer program that exists; just the opposite. We know that wealth transfer is not a good way to increase the general wealth of everybody. So why would you implement wealth transfer programs if you regard humanity as precious?

  • toolkien

    Understanding the region around earth will be discovered through market means. Your example of telecommunications is one example. It is up to the provider of such services to understand what means are necessary to actually provide it. Since we cannot control to the sun, it will do as it will, and it is up to the mechanisms of the market to provide and mitigate problems as it sees fit.

    Remiss in studies perhaps, but this is the first I’ve heard the great Chicago fire was caused by a meteorite. Collisions seem to be exceedingly rare, and if one is coming, there isn’t likely a whole lot we’re going to able to do about it. I’d much rather live with maximum liberty and risk the .0000000003% chance that there is a space rock with my name on it. Reiterating what I said before, if I am going to have to unilaterally transfer by Force, I’d much rather fund ways to reduce the chances of being a victim of a violent crime. I think that is much, much more likely than a meteorite.

    Lastly, I have no issue with any exploration or theorizing, for commercial purposes or for merely wanting to know, but I can’t justify the State using its Force to coerce me to fund such research.

  • Aral Simbon

    toolkien – I think we’ve both made our points so I’ll leave the discussion where it stands.

    You may be interested in this article on the Wabar impact (and note the name Philby!). Here’s a link for the Chicago Fire. These things have happened recently and I fully expect something similar to happen this century.

    BTW – good news that SpaceShipOne is to shoot for space on Jun 21!