Not Quite an Odyssey
by Jeffery Commaroto
So I am sitting here, typing away on my shiny new baize keyboard
as a tiny red glow peaks out from the deep black ball of my
HAL computer. I can feel the gentle glide of the spinning
ring that provides my crew and I with much needed artificial
gravity. I often wonder if I would be insane at whatever moment
I wonder about it, if it wasn't for that precious artificial
gravity. I at least know this much to be true. If it were
not for that wonderful innovation, my ultra secret affair
with Ensign Burke would surely suffer in the bedroom. I cannot
even fathom how difficult it was for the early deep space
voyagers of the 1980's who had to suffer with zero gravity
intercourse and all the difficulties it entailed.
"HAL" I call out for a moment, "how long till
we reach Jupiter orbit?" I can hear the computer buzzing
in the background attempting to crunch the endless supply
of numbers that make up our estimated trajectory. "We
are about five minutes closer then the last time you asked
me Jeffery. If you must know, five minutes from now we will
be exactly five more minutes closer. The pattern will continue
onward ad infinitum until we reach there. Now will there be
Goddamn Microsoft and their pretentious and ornery computers!
"I read that Jeffery," HAL responds, "Microsoft
will be deducting $500 dollars out of your account for that
blasphemy. If there are any further, then I will be forced
to tell them about your little secret." I jump up and
begin hurling wild profanities at the annoying little device.
"How dare you spy on Ensign Burke and I, what we do in
private is our own business." "I was referring to
the old laptop you have running a rogue copy of Linux, everyone
at Star Command and Microsoft has been well aware of your
affair with the Ensign, as is everyone on the ship."
Actually, 2001 just ended, but instead of sitting in my quarters
on a spaceship fighting with my ultra intelligent and vile
minded computer, I am sitting in my office in the suburbs
of Rochester New York, hurling profanities at my ultra dumb
and slow, non talking computer. I think I have the better
end of that deal, don't you?
I could start this chapter off with a little pronouncement
that you tend to see around New Years time in a cheesy Infotainment
magazine article. Something like the following.
"We all grew up on the notion that in 2001 we would
be flying in spaceships, speaking to artificial forms of intelligence,
zipping to the market in our flying cars, and taking trips
to the bottom depths of the ocean where we would solve all
of our energy and natural resource problems through innovative
and highly skilled means. But the world of 2001 that we actually
live in looks much different then the fantasy world created
in our science fiction."
Then the article would go on about what we do have.
"We have cell phones, the Internet, computers more powerful
than the ones that got us to the moon sitting on our desks
and a seemingly endless stream of engaging entertainment that
will soon reach our high definition television sets, digital
movie projectors, handheld devices and other devices we have
yet to imagine. We have revolutionized our understanding of
ourselves through mapping out the entire human genome and
the genomes of other species. In space we have satellites
orbiting the distant planets, a telescope that is finding
new distant worlds and even the first space tourist reached
the International Space Station (ISS) built and funded primarily
by the worlds two superpowers that only a few decades ago
ignited a space race through their mutual hatred."
So we haven't achieved the glamour of space travel and technology
to make our lives near perfect as science fiction presented.
But we did have the first space tourist Dennis Tito head up
to the ISS in April and the second one looks like he could
be going up early this year. The entire trip only cost Tito
$20 million paid to the Russians. I am sure there are millions
of people around the world with an extra $20 million dollars
lying around that would love to go. A lot of people have even
said that director James Cameron is interested. I for one
love the idea of him going.
Because maybe something epic will occur and he can make another
movie like Titanic that will waste three more hours of men's
lives with a silly fabricated love story surrounding a real
life tragedy that I personally was forced to watch twice in
a theater full of teary eyed teenage girls and gay men. But
maybe I am being harsh; I did see it each time with a different
girl and I got laid afterwards! Both times! So maybe we should
send him up. So with all this tourism that means it could
just be another fifty or hundred years before you and I and
other non-multi millionaires can go! Well, maybe not some
of you considering that you could be old and close to death.
But hey, at least I could have a shot.
Actually space tourism and the industrialization of space
could be a major boom to our economy and really revolutionize
how humans live. Not to mention cause a renewed interest in
space travel by the average citizen. Of coarse NASA has been
adamantly opposed to citizen space travel and did everything
they could, which was very little, to stop Tito from going.
Their main concern was the safety of the other astronauts
and Tito himself. Many people, myself included, criticized
NASA for its criticism. Of coarse if the United States Navy
had used the same discretion with their nuclear submarines
then perhaps a wealthy tourist wouldn't have been at the helm
of the USS Greenville when it hit a Japanese fishing boat
killing nine people last year. So maybe NASA does have a point.
Of coarse the future of NASA and the space station doesn't
look good. The ISS is currently at a cost overrun of $4.8
billion. (Just for comparison the federal government recently
started the 2002 budget year off at a $9.4 billion deficit.
So the way I see it, NASA is budgeting better than the entire
federal government. Good job!) So the Bush administration
has called for a reevaluation of the station and a series
of initiatives to cut costs. (Meanwhile he is advocating that
the federal government fund a war, airport security, a missile
defense shield, a faith based charity program, tax cuts for
the wealthy and millions upon millions in corporate welfare
to get it out of debt.)
So what have they been cutting? Well science of coarse, what
else would you cut on a multi billion dollar space station
whose main objective is to, you guessed it, do science research?
Basically the plan is to not install an expensive module that
will house more crew members limiting the station to only
three at any one time instead of seven.
Those three people will have the daily task of maintaining
the station, which alone will take up a substantial amount
of their time. So we have a twenty-year multi-billion dollar
investment into a structure that was built for scientific
research but won't be used for scientific research and can
only house enough people to maintain it's relatively worthless
structure. Sounds like a healthy road to fiscal conservancy
Actually according to Ed Hudgins there might not even be
a need for NASA in the coming years, or at least when it comes
to the area of space from the Earth to the moon. Hudgins is
a director at the CATO institute an organization that adamantly
fights big government. He has been a leading advocate of such
spending limitation ideas as selling off the space shuttle
fleet and the space station to private industry and having
NASA exist only as a developer of deep space and interplanetary
missions, if he would have it exist at all.
Up until recently most people laughed at all of these ideas.
Basically because having an organization like NASA around
allows billions of dollars to be spent on scientific research
and development that would never be funded by private industry.
Mainly because most of that research has no immediate profit
producing applications, which is the main goal of all private
research and development, to make money.
I don't know about you, but if I ran a multi national corporation
and I could either pump a billion dollars into a project that
could possibly return back fifty times my investment in the
next ten years, or a project that would let me know the average
temperature on Mars, which do you think I would fund? Knowing
the average temperature on Mars is important to our understanding
of the solar system, our own planet and to science in general.
But it won't help General Electric make a buck with an advanced
Mars faring toaster oven in the short term.
But the Bush administration has shown great support of these
ideas, remember I said most people laughed at them up until
recently, and it looks like we could be pursuing such a plan
soon. In a recent interview for Wired magazine online Mr.
Hudgins also suggested that private industry could take over
NASA's entire Earth Sciences program. One of the main goals
of this mission is to chart out climate change, ozone depletion
and changes in Earth's oceanography. I don't know about you,
but I think I would feel a little uncomfortable with allowing
Exxon to be the final analyzer of data pertaining to pollution
and ozone depletion. What's that old saying about a fox in
the hen house?
I am not completely opposed to farming out a lot of the costs
and responsibility of maintaining our space program to private
industry. But lets not go crazy and start dismantling NASA.
Besides, what happens if we give away the space shuttle fleet
to a corporation and it goes bankrupt? Would the shuttle fleet
go up on the auction block? I bet China would love that, or
maybe Iraq could get her hands on it. Would we have to try
and outbid them? What if they joined together with some other
nations and combined their money and shared? Sure it would
create a very comedic sitcom esq. situation where they would
all fight over who gets to use the shuttle when. But we could
really lose out on something like that.
Talk about a national security crisis waiting to happen!
Plus, if we did win the bidding, wouldn't we just be spending
all the billions of dollars we saved over the years? So now
we just paid a shitload of money on something that we already
spent a shitload of money building and maintaining just a
few decades before. That doesn't sound very financially sound
to me. Actually it sounds really stupid!
To tell you the truth as I am writing this, I really hate
this idea. It made sense for a while but now that I am reading
over the data, man what a shitty ass plan. In fact most of
this privatization stuff seems suspect. The worst part is
there is a plan to privatize just about everything. From schools
to health care the prevailing wisdom is "Let corporations
do it." Hey I will even throw in a new one. Why not let
corporations fund libraries? I don't know about you but letting
children read for free doesn't sound very capitalist. Actually
it sounds downright communist to me. Sounds like a job for
Barnes & Noble to me!
For now I would like to close up with one last quick observation.
There are probably a million reasons why 2001 the reality
wasn't the amazing wonder filled world of space exploration
that Arthur C. Clark's classic novel described it might be.
But I know of one giant reason that I will use in any future
discussions of science/technology. Mainly the fact that the
United States congress is mostly made up of really old people!
Now I am twenty-two years old, so that statement encapsulates
a lot of people for me. But when you get down to it, when
you still have Senators and Congressmen who consider a color
television set a magical device making decisions about aerospace
and the Internet, your in fucking trouble. Anyone remember
watching the ultra rich ex-president George Bush Sr. stand
in amazement over a bar code scanner at a supermarket? That
sums it all up right there.
So my philosophy is "get the old people out and put
hip young people who actually know a thing or two about technology
in." If we follow that plan I am sure we will be on our
way to floating space cities, quantum computers and mountains
of high quality fast downloading porno.