From the Moon to Mars and METI

I am infamously critical of the “Artemis Mission,” re-doing glory that America achieved more than fifty years ago. Worse, a cabal of corrupt senators insisted that billions get poured into a make-work program of obsolete rockets that have no future. Oh, humanity will be going to Luna in droves, as nations, billionaires and other entities scurry to have their flag-waving, footprint-planting, tourist rites-of-passage. Those Apollo wannabes should have their ‘‘bar moonzvahs’ without elder bro churlishly shaming them by scurrying to beat them there. (We already did, by five decades.) 

Do not try the ‘vast lunar resources’ argument here. Blah blah. Except for a little water ice cached in deep, sunless craters at the poles, there are no such ‘resources’ there accessible by near future technologies. Nor compared to the spectacular riches that await us in the Near Earth Asteroids (NEOs). And as for that polar ice (first predicted by my doctoral adviser), our best steps forward are robotic.

Still, we are committed, I suppose, at least to the SLS-propeled ‘stunt’ part of Artemis. (Always remember who committed us to this moondoggle.) Moreover, I do hope and expect that skilled folks at NASA and ESA will strive to make this more than just an Apollo reboot, planting useless-symbolic footprints on a plain of poison dust. Science please.

Toward that end, very smart folks are trying to turn a lemon into lemonade, by selecting potential landing sites many of which are within reach of those ice deposits… and other interesting items like hollow lava tubes, which might offer best possible locations for lunar habitats. (We have a project to look at one of the ‘skylight’ openings, at NASA’s Innovative & Advanced Concepts program – (NIAC).)

In fact, I was impressed by how Jim Bridenstine, one of Trump’s only first-rate appointments, protected NASA’s other portfolios from cannibalism by Artemis. With some budget increases, this sabotage attempt won’t sabotage at all!

It’s too late to sway this decision. It’s made. So I will root for the team… 

== More Space, More Space! ==

More spectacular images from the James Webb Space Telescope: exciting new discoveries about galaxies, exoplanets and nebulae.

Meanwhile, we’ve received stunning new high-resolution photos of the Valles Marineris canyon region on Mars – from the High Resolution Stereo Camera on ESA’s Mars Express exploring the surface of the Red Planet.

== Rockets ==

DIY rocket system being built by Danish amateurs and crowdfunded may carry suborbital passengers in some years. Interesting project, reminiscent of the amateur self-launch hobbyists in my novel Existence.  

Meanwhile the U.S. Space Force plans “responsive” launch in 2023. As part of the fiscal year 2022 defense budget, Congress added $50 million for the US Department of Defense to better use commercial launch services during a conflict; this would help the government replace damaged satellites or deploy new ones quickly.  Space Force said it plans to conduct a 2023 “responsive space” demonstration where private launch companies will be challenged to deploy satellites on short notice, Space News reports.

== METI yet again! ==

Apparently, a radio signal designed to bring Earth’s climate crisis to the attention of alien life will be beamed to the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system in October. As many of you know, I am a member of a loose array of professionals with long experience in this field, who resigned from most SETI commissions in protest, when the Second SETI Protocol was eviscerated, opening the door wider for reckless and insipid stunts like this one, rashly gambling our children and posterity based on highly dubious assumptions.

Here’s the latest stunt, planned by the folks using a taxpayer built facility at Goonhilly Station in the UK, aiming to perform diplomacy with foreign powers bypassing the professionals we hire for such things…. 

…and a fairly balanced-if-cursory overview, mentioning also that it seems China may be about to join in this absurd spectacle, despite being clearly warned about potential drawbacks by the mighty Liu Cixin (in his great trilogy “The Three Body Problem.”) I was not aware that China had added transmission equipment to their giant new radio telescope. But I cannot say that I’m surprised.

NBC online just ran a tendentious article by SETI Institute chief scientist Seth Shostak. I have known Seth for decades. Alas, he has lately tipped into polemic that is deeply flawed. This ‘article’ is rife with the usual hoary canards, long ago refuted. You are welcome to read his piece, then dive into the actual meat of this controversy here:

Shouting At the Cosmos” – about METI “messaging” to aliens. 

But the crux is that Seth Shostak says nothing whatsoever about “why scientists are divided on this issue,” preferring instead to deal out absurd, insulting and refuted clichés, avoiding all adversarial accountability by science and fact.

1. Like his claim that the dozens of scientists who express skepticism toward METI (or ‘active SETI’), many of them with decades of experience in SETI, are primarily spurred by fear of alien invasion. An absurd canard. Most of us are motivated far more by the rude and unscientific behavior of a very small coterie, dismissing even cursory discussion of basic concerns, like those routinely examined by NASA’s Office of Planetary Protection.

2. He also says: “Homo sapiens might (might!) be around for a long time, and insisting that we never, ever point a powerful radio transmitter skyward could prove to be a weighty albatross burdening our descendants.”

Seth keeps accusing us of trying to ‘stifle’ humanity forever, when in fact, we have asked for open debate, exposing a wide variety of considerations and facts – not clichés – for examination by our scientific peers and by a fascinated public. The ‘never, ever’ thing is a grotesque lie. 

3. “They already know about us, so why not beam messages?” This is the worst cliché of them all. We deal with its absurd illogic in the linked missive. Not only do our TV shows fade into static very soon beyond Pluto, but if aliens already know of us, why are these cultists trying to amplify their shouts skyward by many millions-fold?

To be clear, many of us retain our fascination with the ‘alien.’ In particular, I am fairly famous for it! But we are also scientists. Alas, this ‘active SETI’ cult no longer uses scientific method or thinking and needs to be seen for what it is. Moreover, NBC exhibited shallowness and may have done real harm, by not seeking to understand the cult-like nature of Seth’s movement.

Again, I gave a link to our long list of complaints, not one of which – alas – this cult has ever answered.

== Artemis redux ==

Again, my objections to a U.S. Footprint Stunt on the moon do not extend to robotic parts of the program!  NASA should very much strive for a leading role in robotic lunar exploration and actual, actual science.  For example: “Over the course of 10 Earth days (one lunar day), Lunar-VISE will explore the summit of one of the Gruithuisen Domes. These domes are suspected to have been formed by a sticky magma rich in silica, similar in composition to granite. On Earth, formations like these need oceans of liquid water and plate tectonics to form, but without these key ingredients on the Moon, lunar scientists have been left to wonder how these domes formed and evolved over time.”

Robotic exploration of lunar polar ice fields? That too!  And suspected lava tubes. 

What we do not need to do is humiliate other nations eager to send their astro/cosmo/taikonauts for symbolism-drenched national rites of passage. Let them have their ‘bar moonzvahs.’ We have other business farther out, worthy of grownups.

Onward to… the asteroid belt, location of vast wealth for planet Earth.

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