Tag: Space

The U.S. Military Wants to Build Space Lasers

Othman Mekhloufi | @othmanmekhloufi

The Pentagon has asked for $304 million in the 2020 budget to fund research and development for space-based lasers, neutral particle beams, and advanced missile defense. DefenseOne reported that two studies are currently being conducted by American defense officials regarding these space-based weapons. These two studies aim to develop a space-based weapon capable of disabling enemy ballistic missiles moments after launch.

Continue reading “The U.S. Military Wants to Build Space Lasers”

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Space: The Next Victim of American Expansionism

By William Ramage | United States

Manifest Destiny was the nationalistic ideology that westward expansion was inevitable, and that it was the destiny of the United States to occupy all of North America. It was the common belief that the land was provided by divine rule to nurture the nation, and the people of it were obligated to put it to use. The federal government went to great extents, often socially and morally unjust, in order to fulfill their destiny, such as the Mexican-American war, the Louisiana Purchase, and the construction of a transcontinental railroad. This not only benefited the land holdings of the Union but also a sense of national pride. Trade networks were constructed, and capitalism flourished.

Manifest Destiny was achieved to a great extent, leaving many expansionists with a temporary feeling of accomplishment. However, expansionism did not die when America reached its North American goal, and neither did the desires of the citizens; it has remained in society and continues to be a very big part of the American identity today. In modern America, opportunities for discovery and the ability to boost national pride in a peaceful way come seldom. However, often hidden in the shadow of “science and technology”, America’s quest for the colonization of Mars is essentially a modern-day Manifest Destiny.

It is in the progressive nature of Americans, a result of the ethics this country was founded on, to exceed expectations and set a high standard in everything we do. NASA leads the world in space exploration and is taking the global effort of Martian colonization into its own hands. When compared to other nations with exceptional space programs, the United States has continuously been the most successful and evidently had the most drive. The successful recent landing of Nasa’s InSight probe further advocates America’s expertise in this field. Space is the last frontier known to man, as humanity has managed to leave virtually no region on Earth unmapped.

The unknown and opportunity to explore, conquer, and obtain land has captivated Americans since the days of our founding fathers. As technology, science, and national pride began to climb as a result of the (mostly) successful conquest for North America, Americans were presented with the technological and financial means to map and explore an unimaginably large frontier. The desire and sheer will of accepting a task as mind-boggling as this was provided by themselves; the very reason NASA is as successful as it is.

In a nation infamous for its great political rifts, Americans have always been able to bond over exploration and discovery. This does not pertain solely to territorial acquisitions, but travels deeper. Contemporary American society will always have a desire to learn and deepen their understanding of the universe, an expansion of the mind. Therefore, modern-day expansionism is an effect of the American mindset and ideology and remains a prominent aspect of American culture as we all seek to expand our knowledge, liberty, and values of our country.

Expansionism is now at its greatest peak, as every day we get closer to providing social liberty and the greatest amount of political unity possible. Although America has expanded its territory and values to a great extent and already set a precedent for future democracies, it is still far from perfect and will continue to grow closer and closer to its ultimate goal of expanding ethically to all.


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It is the Best of Times, it is the Worst of Times

“This illustration depicts NASA’s exoplanet hunter, the Kepler space telescope. The agency announced on Oct. 30, 2018, that Kepler has run out of fuel and is being retired within its current and safe orbit, away from Earth. Kepler leaves a legacy of more than 2,600 exoplanet discoveries.” Credits: NASA/Wendy Stenzel.

Craig Axford | United States

 We live in an age of discovery far beyond any other our species has experienced so far, yet we hardly seem to even notice. We live in an era of staggering loss, but we seem paralyzed by the immensity of the problem. Had Charles Dickens foreseen the early 21st century, he may very well have reconsidered his opening line in A Tale of Two Cities.

Over this past week, two news stories drove home the point that we’re living in an extraordinary time. The first broke on October 29th. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) announced the results of a report indicating that between 1970 and 2014, global wildlife populations had declined by a staggering 60%. Even if their estimates are off by half, a 30% decline over such a relatively brief period would still be alarming.

The second story, coming just one day after the first, was NASA’s announcement that its Kepler space telescope had run out of fuel and would no longer be continuing its stunningly successful search for exoplanets. NASA’s Kepler had discovered more than 2,600 planets orbiting other worlds during its lifetime, further dislocating humanity from its perceived place at the center of the universe. By revealing “that 20 to 50 percent of the stars visible in the night sky are likely to have small, possibly rocky, planets similar in size to Earth, and located within the habitable zone of their parent stars”, NASA’s Kepler seems to support those convinced that we are unlikely to be the only place in the universe where life has emerged.

The tension these two stories represent stirs something deep within me, and not just because they arrived within 24 hours of each other. Because of their coincidental relationship to my own personal arrival on this planet, they each, in their own way, reflect the seemingly conflicting currents of history that have become increasingly evident with age.

 I was born just one month before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the Moon. I also entered this world just a few months before the WWF’s baseline year of 1970. So the 60% decline in wildlife populations and the nearly 28,000% increase in the number of known planets discovered during my lifetime is jarring, to say the least.

 As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m not fond of adopting either optimism or pessimism as default outlooks. Going through life either perpetually cheerful or gloomy seems like avoiding confronting the world on its own terms, even if an often unconscious one. Even terrible news for us is good news for somebody. If you and bunch of your coworkers get laid off, odds are the company’s shareholders are happy. Even a corpse can be a reason to celebrate if you’re a bacteria or a vulture.

 I’m also not too keen on the way we often describe ourselves as a species. We tend to point to our impact upon the planet as though it was an indication either of genius or stupidity, leaving little room for the vast landscape of complexity and nuance that lies between these two extreme assessments. It’s just trade-offs all the way down.

As the Kepler telescope and all the other probes we’ve sent into space demonstrate, we aren’t idiots. That said, as the WWF study reminds us, scaling up our civilization to this point has also too often been an ad hoc operation that fails to consider all the possible consequences of our actions or quickly correct for them once those costs have become clear.

The progress paradox refers to a curious phenomenon that social scientists have documented over and over again: that there is often an inverse relationship between objective improvements in human well-being and people’s reported overall happiness. While those living in extreme poverty will report significant gains in personal life satisfaction following increases in income and access to resources, these gains don’t continue to follow a linear trajectory as income continues to grow. Instead, people’s happiness growth curve begins to flatten once their basic needs are satisfied. For many living in the wealthiest nations on the planet, they have even take a U-turn.

In a recent article published in the October 2018 issue of Science, researchers Carol Graham, Kate Laffan, and Sergio Pinto cite both the United States and China as strong examples of the progress paradox. “The United States has one of the wealthiest economies in the world,” the authors state, “yet life expectancy is falling owing to deaths driven by suicides and drug and alcohol overdose. This particularly affects Caucasians with less than a college education.”

In China, which “is perhaps the most successful example of rapid growth and poverty reduction in modern history,” with GDP increasing “fourfold between 1990 and 2005” and life expectancy during the same period skyrocketing by more than 6 years, life satisfaction none-the-less dropped significantly as the nation’s middle class ballooned and overall health improved. Graham, Lafan, and Pinto report that there too “suicide increased, reaching one of the highest rates in the world.”

In China’s case, however, it wasn’t those lacking an education but those with one that was “the unhappiest cohorts” surveyed. While they “benefited from the growing economy,” they also had to endure “long working hours and a lack of sleep and leisure time.”

It’s difficult to appreciate all the new planets being unveiled by instruments like the Kepler space telescope when our lives here on Earth don’t even allow us to get enough sleep. Furthermore, all our city lights are blocking out the stars that our ancestors previously enjoyed: stars that we can no longer see without first traveling great distances deep into the heart of one of the few remaining desolate landscapes large enough for us to escape the nearly omnipresent urban glow.

This rapid scaling up of our civilization without regard to its toll on the individual psyche is also happening without much regard to its toll on nature as a whole. Our inability to find the time to spend even just a few hours each week outside smelling the roses, let alone spending a leisurely weekend in the woods now and then, is directly connected to our failure to find the political will to protect the environment upon which all life, including our own, depends.

In his book On Trails, the Canadian author Robert Moor writes “We can travel at the speed of sound and transmit information at the speed of light, but deep human connection still cannot move faster than the comparatively lichenous rate at which trust can grow.” As with individual connections to one another, so it is with connections to our wider world. Slowing down enough to observe and build a relationship with the earth can only happen at a “lichenous rate”.

We cannot continue to pull ourselves out toward the stars and toward an ecological crash simultaneously. Sooner or later the lights will need to be dimmed not only for survival’s sake but so that our children can again see what it is we are reaching for. Reaching into the heavens can sustain our spirits and bring us the wisdom we need to carry on, but only if we take the time to look at what we’re finding there. Ultimately, even our loftiest achievements are still grounded here on Planet Earth.

Follow Craig on Twitter or read him at Medium.com

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India Seeks to Power the World with Lunar Helium-3

By Ryan Lau | @agorisms

In recent years, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has made tremendous progress. Among other things, they have developed cryogenic engines and had numerous successful rocket liftoffs.

In fact, just this year, ISRO broke a major record. In February, they sent 104 satellites into orbit with a single launch, shattering the previous high of 37. However, even this pales in comparison to the organization’s next big move.

With a new mission dubbed Chandrayaan-2, India is sending a rocket to the dark side of the Moon.

The Second Space Race

No country thus far has landed on the Moon’s south side, which in reality, is only dark half of the time. India, currently in a space race with China, hopes to become the first country to do so.

Currently, both countries seek a launch for the second half of 2018. It is not clear which will accomplish the feat first, though India hopes to launch in October.

A Hope for Helium-3

Once launched, Chandrayaan-2 will begin an even more essential segment of the mission: looking for mining potential on the Moon’s surface.

Due to solar wind, the Moon has a large quantity of the Helium-3 isotope on its surface. Unlike most element isotopes, Helium-3 is not radioactive and produces no nuclear waste. For this reason, scientists believe that it could incredibly useful for the future of nuclear fusion.

Currently, the moon is estimated to have about 1 million metric tons of Helium-3. Humans are capable of mining roughly one quarter of that amount, one scientist estimates.

Gerald Kulcinski, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Fusion Technology Institute and former NASA Advisory Council member, states that this is still an astronomical value.

Kulcinski estimates that each ton of Helium-3 is worth roughly five billion US dollars. At this price, the total mined value of the Moon’s Helium-3 would be 1.25 quadrillion dollars, or 1,250 trillion.

To put that into perspective, this would be enough money to pay off the United States national debt roughly 60 times, or to give every human being in the world a lump sum of over $160,000.

Too Good to be True?

These figures, of course, do not take into account the mass expenses of bringing a quarter million tons of anything from the Moon to the Earth, which serves as a critical step to overcome before a great deal of mining can occur.

Moreover, knowledge of the uses of Helium-3 is currently limited. Much more research is necessary before the isotope can become a major source of energy.

If successfully mined in the future, this amount of Helium-3 has the potential to fuel the world for 200 to 500 years, and Rakesh Sharma, India’s lone spaceman who spent eight days on a Russian probe, wants to make it happen.

“I want India to show that we’re capable of utilizing space technology for the good of the people,” Sharma declared.


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America Needs To Let Go of Zero-Sum Thinking

By Craig Axford | United States

If only the world could be neatly divided between winners and losers, and complex issues reduced to arithmetic that can quickly be done on the back of a napkin. But, alas, our problems are rarely that simple, and not solvable with zero-sum thinking.

Zero-sum thinking is a theory that suggests that one person’s gain is another person’s loss. It is a pitiful philosophy that casts aside human collaboration and compassion. Zero-sum thinking implies a finite amount of resources in the world, and an antagonistic nature to social relations. In many ways, society has moved beyond this primitive way of thought.

Donald Trump, however, sees the planet in just those terms. He’s convinced millions of Americans that anyone who thinks global challenges can’t be addressed in 280 characters or less is needlessly complicating things in an effort to bamboozle everyone else. Through this purely additive and subtractive lens, immigrants are merely sucking scarce resources from the wallets of one group so that they can be added to their own. Likewise, trade is only beneficial when the words balance or surplus are attached to it. The presence of a trade deficit signals Americans are being taken advantage of, so government intervention in the form of tariffs is necessary to initiate an adjustment.

This zero-sum thinking is taken directly from the traditional playbook of nationalists and racists. If you don’t think so, it shouldn’t take more than a day or two on Twitter reading white nationalists’ responses to critics of the zero-tolerance policy Trump imposed at the US/Mexico border to convince you. One unapologetic white supremacist just kept stating over and over again in broken record fashion that my opposition to the policy necessarily meant I wanted to “displace white people,” or worse, “hated” them. By the time I finally blocked him it was clear he thought I was a traitor to my race.

In his mind, any decline in America’s white majority meant whites were losing. My suggestion that the only race we needed to worry about was the human race went nowhere. He, like too many others, had used zero-sum thinking to separate humanity into separate locks that only allowed boats to rise by drawing precious water away from others that needed it to keep their own floating high.

Astronauts consistently wax poetic when they speak of viewing our home from space. Sooner or later they all mention the profound change in perspective that they get from seeing the world without artificial lines. Our capacity for abstraction, like our fondness for forming strong group identities, casts a shadow over our minds. No other species has so far come up with the idea of creating so many obstacles to inhibit their own movement. Eventually, I’m convinced, we’ll see the wisdom of taking down our walls and opening up our checkpoints, but, it seems that day is somewhere beyond 2020.

For now, we must begin to reacquaint ourselves with ideas like reciprocity. Human relations are best when they are a game in which all the players are striving to make sure everyone wins rather than a scramble for scarce resources that can only be fully enjoyed by a precious few. There is no one on this planet that does not have something to share. There is no one from whom we cannot learn something we do not know. When that wisdom is shared, the one offering it does not lose it so that we might have it. It becomes the property of even more people than was the case before. Knowledge multiplies. The more it does so the more likely we are to find solutions that work to the benefit of everybody.

Seen in this light, the question we should be asking ourselves is not what those crossing into the United States seeking a better life for themselves and their children will cost us, but what they have to offer that we have not yet identified. Cultures only clash when minds are closed. They are better suited for blending. Contact creates richer more dynamic experiences for those willing to overcome their fear of the unknown. No culture will last forever no matter how fiercely we defend it, but culture itself will be around as long as people still walk the earth. It describes a process rather than a destination.

Eventually, the current crisis will pass, hopefully without bloodshed. Regardless, we already have a pretty good idea who the winners will ultimately be. Those individuals and societies that are open to new experiences and fully embrace the ideal of reciprocity will be the ones that gain the most. Those who recognize that every newcomer comes with a gift and do not cling excessively to a particular identity are the ones best positioned to enrich their own lives and the lives of others in return. It’s not that life isn’t a struggle. It is. But in the struggle to survive cooperation has consistently proven itself to be the best strategy. The wider the circle of cooperation the better. That’s how our species got this far.

Follow Craig on Twitter or read him on 71Republic.com

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